Jetlag – a survival guide
Are you staring down the barrel of a long haul flight and dreading the jetlag? Nicola from Jetlag and Mayhem shares her insider tips on how to minimise and recover from jetlag - for adults and kids alike.
Preventing and Surviving Jetlag
There’s nothing worse than waking up bright and breezy, only to look at your watch and realize it is only 3am. Even worse, when your toddler has the same idea and starts shouting from another room.
Jetlag is the bane of every traveller’s existence. Scientists are yet to find a ‘cure’ to overcome this particular sleep disorder. However, the HK Hub has a few tips on helping to minimize the jetlag and reset your body clock.
What is jetlag?
Jetlag is a disruption of your internal body clock. Humans run on a 24-hour cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. After flying across different time zones, when we arrive at our destination, our body finds it difficult to adjust. It is far more difficult on the body to fly east e.g. London to Hong Kong rather than west. This is because when you fly east you are ‘losing’ time.
Although you may only associate jetlag with tiredness and insomnia, other symptoms include dehydration, constipation, anxiety, nausea and headaches.
Tips to beat jetlag
Before your trip
- If you can, book a flight that has you arriving during daylight hours. Exposure to bright light will help to reset your body clock.
- This tip may sound a bit crazy (particularly for parents) but if really want to overcome jetlag quickly, change your sleep schedule before your trip. If you are flying east, start going to bed earlier in the run up to your trip. If you are flying west, start going to bed later. This will help to train your body clock to adapt. There are even sites like Jetlag Rooster which will help you to plan a new sleep schedule.
- Prepare lots of healthy snacks to eat on the plane, especially if you have kids. You can buy healthy cereal bars, dried fruit and crackers in the supermarket or prepare your own popcorn and trail mix at home.
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol (including those tempting Bloody Mary’s!) and hydrate yourself with plenty of water.
- Keep your kids tanked up on healthy food and water or milk.
- Think ahead to what time it is at your destination and plan your on board sleep accordingly. This is easier said than done, especially if you are trying to get kids to sleep on the plane.
- Adjust to the local time zone immediately! As soon as you land at your destination, set your watch to the current local time. Then adapt your schedule (including for baby) to this new time. If you have a baby it might be useful to set your watch to the new local time but keep the old time on your phone so you can have a realistic expectation on feeding times etc.
- Try to mirror your usual schedule. If your baby/toddler is napping for longer than usual then wake them up. This goes for adults too, don’t be tempted to nap for too long or you won’t sleep at night!
- For children, try to shift bedtime to at least an hour later than usual as this may help to push them through the night.
- Many people swear by using a melatonin supplement to ward off the jetlag. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body, which helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. At around 9pm your body starts to produce melatonin, which puts the body in a ‘tired state’. The time at which you take melatonin is important. If you’re trying to reset your body clock to a later time, such as after flying east, you should take melatonin at local bedtime nightly until you have become adapted to local time. If you’re trying to reset your body clock to an earlier time, such as after flying west, melatonin should be taken in the morning. You can buy melatonin online at iherb.com or in drug stores such as Mannings.
- As soon as you can, even if you are all feeling groggy, drag you and your family into the daylight. Use a mission to get daylight as an excuse to stay awake; head to the local park or pound the streets on your city break.
- When you finally climb into bed, create as welcoming a sleep-space as possible. Use an eyemask and earplugs and don’t forget to remove any pre-set alarm on your phone.
- If you wake up in the night, try not to reach for your phone or tablet. Blue light levels from these devices can affect the release of melatonin.
- If your kids wake up, try to keep the room quiet and the lights low. Keep prepared baby bottles by your bed. There is no harm in tanking baby up on extra feeds to help get them to sleep through the night. For older kids, if they wake up hungry, give them a healthy snack (again keeping lights low) and try to get them back to sleep as soon as possible.
- Daniela Pelonara from Native Essentials recommends particular blends of essential oils to help overcome jetlag. Her Jet-lag sleep uses lavender and chamomile and Jet-lag Awake, rosemary and lemon. She even has similar products for children with Baby Sleep & Fall-Asleep Kids, which use lavender and marjoram.
- If you are prone to insomnia and need to guarantee a decent night’s sleep, you may wish to speak to your doctor about sleep aids. They will talk you through the options available from over-the-counter medicine such as a sedating antihistamine to prescription sleeping pills. It is also important to understand any side effects and safety concerns.
If you have a long haul flight with kids coming up, check out our best kids apps for long journeys here.
Nicola Burke is the author of award winning family travel blog www.jetlagandmayhem.com. Her website showcases the latest in travel products, trip reviews and tips.