It’s no secret Australians have a special relationship with jet lag.
Given we live on the other side of the world from pretty much everywhere, no one understands the pain of the 24-hour flight quite like an Aussie traveller. But how much do you really know about this special kind of torture, and can you beat it?
What is jet lag, anyway?
Jet lag is basically what happens when your sleep is out of whack with your internal body clock.
In more scientific terms, it’s when our circadian rhythm (i.e. our body clock, and the thing that tells you when you should feel sleepy or awake) is disrupted.
How does it work?
According to sleep specialist Dr Dev Banerjee, the sun plays a major role.
“Your circadian rhythm is governed by daylight, so we get used to a regular rhythm of daylight and darkness,” Banerjee said. “The world is divided into 24 time zones and travelling to a different time zone means your body clock will be out of sync with local time. This can cause the onset of jet lag symptoms.”
Jet lag symptoms
In case you’re lucky enough to have never experienced them, Banerjee lists some examples as:
- Waking up often at night or early in the morning
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Being a bit clumsy or irritable because you are so tired
- Indigestion or a low appetite
- Feeling generally unwell and out of sorts
How can I avoid it?
Never fear, there are plenty of ways to try and diminish the effects of jet lag (or beat it altogether!)
As a fashion blogger, Sara Donaldson brings new meaning to the term “frequent flyer.” She estimates she flies on flights over 15-hours long around four times a year (and that’s not counting the ones 15 hours or less), so it’s no surprise she has a few tricks up her sleeve.
“If you can sleep well on a flight then I would actually recommend sleeping as much as possible. I don’t believe you can have too much sleep on a plane,” Donaldson said.
“If you’re not a great sleeper, then when you get on the plane work out what time it is in your destination and try to match their sleeping times. This way you’re fast tracking the jet lag."
“When you arrive at your destination, if it’s in the afternoon then you must stay awake! You are not allow to nap at all. This is a non-negotiable. If you arrive in the morning and are able to check in, then having a two hour nap max (make sure to set your alarm) is going to help you get through the day and stay up to a reasonable hour."
“If all else fails, I also try to arrive a day or so early. It takes 48 hours on the ground for me to fully adjust and be able to function like a human again.”
Banerjee also recommends gradually shifting your sleep patterns in the lead up towards a big trip.
“For instance, if you are in London and flying back to Australia, try getting up earlier and going to bed earlier in the days before you leave,” Banerjee said.
“Light is also a critical factor. Try to avoid bright light in the evening and make sure you have access to light in the morning.”
Both Banerjee and Donaldson also say taking the hormone melatonin can assist in shifting your body clock. However, Banerjee strongly advises to seek medical advice before doing so.
Tips for your flight
“Pack an eye mask! Blocking out the light helps tenfold,” Donaldson said.
“If you can help it, don’t drink too much alcohol and drink as much water as possible. I also really don’t like airplane food so packing some healthy snacks that I can have whenever I need a little pick me up is a great way to fly.”
Forget jet lag. How do I look decent after 24 hours in the air?
Because of her line of work, it’s not enough for Donaldson to merely survive a 24-hour flight, she also needs to look camera-ready at the end of it.
“I’m all about the toiletries and bringing with you hydrating creams,” Donaldson said. “My latest obsession that has saved me on both my recent long haul trips is Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream. I not only use it on my face and lips but also my hands. My skin has honestly never looked better after a flight.”
And as for the best clothes to travel in?
“I’m a bit controversial and don’t mind wearing jeans on flights, but they do have to be comfortable. Alternatively 3/4 culottes are a great option and can look a bit dressier. I recommend wearing layers so you’re not caught out with the air conditioning and a scarf comes in handy as an extra blanket or thrown over the head to block out the light.”
Uh-oh. Despite my best efforts I’m still really jet lagged. What do I do?
It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, but if the sun’s shining, get out and about.
“Get yourself outdoors and into the sunlight. The sun and the vitamin D will help you reset your clock,” Donaldson said.
“While you’re at it, make yourself right at home and reward yourself with an amazing Australian coffee! Why not two?”
Once again, melatonin can assist in getting back into the swing of things, but make sure you consult your GP first to make sure you’re taking it at the right time. You don’t want to confuse your body clock even more.
The best thing about your long flight
Despite the possibility of being jet lagged on your arrival, there is one overwhelming positive aspect to long stretches in the air (and it’s not your destination!)
Take the time in this tech-obsessed world to unplug. Turn off your phone, forget about your emails, and enjoy the ride.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Dr. Banerjee's surname.
This story was originally published on 18 August, 2015.