The next day after an 18-hour trans-pacific flight from the States, I was due to make a presentation for the final rounds of a Data Visualisation “hackathon” competition. The (local) time of the presentation was 1pm, while the corresponding time in the States (where I was the previous day) was midnight. As you know, long-haul flights can often leave a person feeling exhausted, irritable, and “brain foggy”, which are all common symptoms of jet lag. But on the day of my presentation, I felt very refreshed, well-rested, and energetic. Here’s how I was able to recover so quickly:

What leads to jet lag?

Jet lag is a condition which occurs when the body’s circadian rhythm becomes disrupted. The circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock. Our internal body clock is responsible for making us sleep as well for waking us up. Other than that, it also affects blood pressure levels, hunger, and mood.

There exist some natural signals like light exposure, social engagement, activities and meal times, which help in regulating our body clock.

Here are seven ways which will help you beat jet lag:

1. Developing a new sleep routine

When it comes to travelling, the phrase ‘west is best; east is a beast’ is entirely accurate. When a person is travelling east, they end up sleeping when their body is waking up, or they feel super active when it’s time to fall asleep.

Hence, while you’re travelling towards an eastern country, you should try sleeping half an hour early each night for a couple of nights before you leave. On the other hand, if you’re travelling towards a western country, you should start sleeping half an hour late. In addition, you should also move your meal timings closer to sync with your destination.

2. Start adjusting while you’re in flight

The first thing you should do the moment you board your flight is change the time on your watch. Doing this will help you to quickly adapt to your destination’s time.

The next thing to do is to simulate your new timetable while you’re still on the airplane. It’s crucial to analyze whether sleeping on board is going to turn out to be a favourable thing for you or not. You should avoid sleeping if it’s daytime at your destination, and instead use that time to do things that will keep you awake. On the other hand, you should try sleeping if it’s nighttime at your destination.

3. Manipulate your light exposure

The primary signal that regulates our body’s clock is light. The fastest way to get used to a new time zone, while also avoiding jet lag, is to control your amount of light exposure.

Controlling your light exposure leads to changes in your body’s circadian clock. This manipulation helps to make you feel rested, and it also ensures that you’re awake at the right times while you’re at your destination.

There exists many online jet lag calculators and applications which help you plan your light exposure. These tools tell you the optimal time and duration of light exposure and light avoidance based on your arrival time, location, flight, and destination.

Because you might need to be in darkness during certain times of your flight, having a good and comfortable eyemask, such as one that is foam-fitted and lightweight, can come in handy. This is the eyemask I use from the local company SleepWiz. It’s a bit more expensive than regular eyemasks, but shipping is free. For something as important as sleep, I try not to be too cheap.

4. Arrive ahead of schedule

If the reason for your travelling is to attend an important meeting, then it is best to plan your trip such that you arrive at your destination a day or two early. This will give your body and mind plenty of time to cope with the time difference.

A long flight tends to wear you out, and your body needs time to recover. It gets even harder when you travel from a cold place to a hot place, or vice versa. The ideal thing to do is to give your body some time to adapt to the new environment and time zone.

5. Say no to these beverages

Often the cabin air, which is at 15% humidity, can make you mildly dehydrated, and dehydration tends to worsen the symptoms of jet lag. You can avoid this situation if you drink water before, during, and after your flight. Because caffeine and alcohol can cause dehydration and also disrupt your sleep pattern, you might consider avoiding these altogether.

6. Choose the right kind of food

There is no such diet significantly proven to help prevent jet lag, but there are some generally accepted observations of how certain macronutrients impact our body and mind.

Foods rich in carbohydrate, such as rice, pasta, and bread, tend to make you feel full and lethargic, irrespective of whether you’re on the ground or in the air. These foods, may increase your need for sleep, which can be beneficial if it is nearing night-time at your destination.

On the other hand, if it is nearing daytime at your destination, upon arrival, you should probably consume foods that are higher in protein like eggs, fish and lean meat, which may help you stay awake.

7. Always be on the move

It’s crucial to engage in some physical activities while travelling on long flights. Exercising not only boosts your endorphins but also stretches out the kinks that might have developed during the flight. You can start by walking around periodically, stretching and even doing some static exercises while you’re in route. Doing this will help you feel more energized, and help to reduce leg and foot swelling. However, one should avoid doing heavy exercise, especially if it’s near bed-time at your destination. Heavy workouts can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Always remember to adjust back to your home time zone on your return flight. People who fly frequently and struggle with jet lag should consult a sleep medicine specialist. These specialist can help you shift your body’s circadian rhythm and help you cope with the various symptoms of jet lag.


The inspiration for this article was adapted from Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, Singapore’s Health Plus website.

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