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What is jet lag and how to overcome it

Woman reading to a young girl on plane
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Travelling long haul can feel like an exciting adventure, once you’ve checked in at the airport that is. It’s time to relax and enjoy your flight, whilst looking forward to a change of scenery and routine. Depending on where you’re travelling to and from however, you may experience the effects of jet lag which can cause disruption to your sleep and wellbeing.

Here’s everything you need to know about jet lag including symptoms and simple remedies to help you adjust to a new time zone or being back at home.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a temporary disorder which is likely to occur after a long flight. It is where your normal sleep pattern and daily routine are disturbed whilst your body adapts to a different time zone. Jet lag is a common issue for travellers and can cause daytime fatigue and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night. Whilst it isn’t preventable, there are a few things you can do to minimise the effects of jet lag to keep side effects to a minimum.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

Getting to know the effects of jet lag can be useful to know, allowing time for your body to read just with these symptoms in mind.

The main symptoms of jet lag are:

Jet lag can also lead to feeling dizzy, indigestion, constipation, changes in appetite and mild anxiety.

How to get over jet lag

Whilst it isn’t possible to avoid jet lag altogether, there are steps you can take before, during and after a long-haul flight to reduce the symptoms and minimise its impact on your travel experience.

  • Before travelling

    Planning is key when it comes to minimising the effects of jet lag, helping you to feel less anxious whilst giving your body what it needs to rebalance:

    • Plan your trip - planning the first few days of your trip to allow for an adjustment period can be extremely effective in minimising the effects of jet lag. For example, blocking extra time into your schedule in case you feel sluggish, not booking in any meetings or activities for the first couple of days, and generally giving yourself extra time for your body clock to adjust.
    • Adapt your sleep prior - it may be beneficial to modify your sleep schedule in the lead up to your trip if this is possible, synching your sleeping hours with those of your destination i.e. going to bed at an earlier time if you’re travelling East, or going to bed later if you’re flying West. This may not be practical depending on your personal and professional commitments, however even slight adjustments can have a positive effect.
    • Minimise stress before travelling - giving yourself plenty of time to pack and get to the airport will help you to feel calm and can minimise feelings of stress. If you are prone to travel sickness it may be worth looking into tablets beforehand to reduce feelings of nausea.
    • Nourish your body and mind - eating well and staying hydrated in the lead up to your flight can help you to feel more balanced overall, reducing the risk of jet lag related migraines or headaches.
    • Get a good night’s sleep - feeling sleepy before you have even set off can quickly lead to exhaustion; a good night’s sleep will help to reduce jet lag symptoms.
  • During your flight

    There are a few things you can do throughout your flight which will reduce symptoms such as jet lag nausea or jet lag headaches:

    • Eat well - eating regularly is essential if you are on a long-haul flight, to prevent headaches and hunger related nausea. This will reduce the risk of digestive problems too.
    • Stay hydrated - our body is made up of 100% water so it’s essential to keep hydrated to prevent headaches or migraines.
    • Reduce or avoid alcohol and caffeine - stimulants and depressants may contribute to headaches and feelings of nausea, therefore reducing or avoiding them altogether may help you to feel more balanced during and after the flight.
  • After arrival

    You’ve arrived, time to get on with your trip! Or that’s the intention at least. Jet lag may have other ideas depending on the time zone you have flown from and to. Here are a few things you can do to keep reducing the symptoms of jet lag once you’ve landed:

    • Keep moving - you may be tempted to immediately rest once you’ve reached your destination, however staying active can help to keep you more energised and prevent symptoms from feeling as severe. It needn’t be anything too energetic, a gentle stroll to take in the sights is enough.
    • Set an alarm - try to avoid going to bed at the time you normally would as this will cause more confusion to your body and mind. If you can stay awake for longer if the time zone is in front, or sleep earlier if it’s behind, then this will help your body to adjust.
    • Resist the urge to nap - try to keep naps to no more than 30 minutes at a time, napping eight or more hours before your intended bedtime.

A final word on jet lag

In summary, the symptoms of jet lag can be reduced by planning ahead, staying hydrated and making gradual adjustments to your sleeping routine once you have arrived in a different time zone. By taking these steps, you can help ensure a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience.

Why not read our travel essentials guide to help prepare ahead of your flight, as well as finding out which travel vaccinations you may need. And because you can never be too prepared, we have a range of headache and migraine products which could come in handy too.