The misery of jet lag shouldn't ruin travel plans. These six tried-and-tested methods will reduce its potency, leaving you to get the most from your trip
Whether you're travelling for business or pleasure, jet lag can affect everyone. It's caused when your regular sleep pattern is disturbed by changing time zones – often due to a long-haul flight. This leads to tiredness, exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, tummy upset, and confusion. Generally speaking, for each time zone you cross, you'll need a full day and night to get in sync with the local time at your new destination. So far, so bad. However, there are some ways which can alleviate the symptoms of this most irritating of modern malaises.
1. Fasting: a powerful weapon
A 2009 Harvard University study found that by manipulating your 'eating clock,' rather than your 'sleep clock,' humans can better adjust to time changes. Jenny Graham, MD of Quintessentially Travel – and regular long-haul traveller – agrees. "Fasting is vital for me," she says. "Because it reduces stress on your body, especially your gut." Harvard's research suggests fasting for a minimum of 12 hours before you would eat breakfast at the new destination. Taking this idea further is the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet. Released in 1983, it suggests alternating feast and fast days, manipulating the internal clock to transition to the new time zone quicker.
According to the British Acupuncture Council, in "Chinese medicine theory, certain organs are more easily affected by changes in time zones, with those associated with sleep and digestion most affected by jet lag." Acupuncture works by inserting ultra-fine needles into specific points on the body to re-establish the free flow of 'qi' (energy flow), which restores balance and triggers the body's natural healing response.
3. Light therapy
Our circadian rhythms are controlled by sunlight, and with jet lag, it's vital to expose your body to light as soon as possible. "Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to the hypothalamus in the brain," says Jenya Emets, founder of Cloud Twelve wellness club. "There, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals that control hormones, body temperature, and other functions that make us feel sleepy or awake. Once exposed to the first light each day, the clock in the SCN raises body temperature and releases stimulating hormones." According to Jenny Graham of Quintessentially Travel, there's a simple hack. "Don't put sunglasses on when you land," she says. "Without their shading, you'll get instant bright-light exposure and start to re-align immediately."
4. Alcohol: yes or no?
"Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and has effects as strong as many sleeping pills, depending on how large a 'dose' is taken," says Dr Colin Espie, a sleep expert from the University of Oxford and co-founder of Sleepio, a sleep improvement programme. "Consequently, it can make a person feel sleepy and may also result in them falling asleep more quickly." The catch? "Using alcohol as a sleep aid isn't good. Its beneficial effects for inducing sleep tend to be short-lived, and overall, people tend to view alcohol-related sleep as less restorative in quality." Stick to still water instead.
5. Take magnesium and vitamins
"Magnesium maintains the healthy level of GABA (a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep) in the body," says founder of GP Nutrition, Gabriela Peacock. The company's Fly Me programme combines science and natural supplements to prep your body. Its protein powder is a meal replacement for when you're up in the air (so you can skip unhealthy snacks) while a dose of magnesium will help you sleep when you arrive. Graham says: "As well as magnesium, I take Siberian ginseng, vitamins C and B Complex, and 15th Degree's special travel supplements."
6. Book a massage
You can relieve tired limbs and stimulate blood flow with a massage tailored to post-flight stresses. "Massages help alleviate the symptoms of jet lag by stimulating the lymphatic system and circulation in general: relieving bloating, loosening up joints and easing muscle tension," says Emets. If you land at night, choose a relaxing massage with nourishing oils to help your skin rehydrate. If you arrive during the day, opt for an invigorating massage to increase blood circulation. As mind and body are connected, meditation can promote balance, too. "I use the Calm app," says Graham, "especially the Sleep Stories and the Sleep Meditation."
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