Arriving Fresh: Combatting Jet Lag
Many travelers assume that jet lag on long distance flights is an inevitability as reliable as death and taxes. But it need not be that way, with the right planning and a few expert tips. Jumping time zones plays with your circadian rhythms while many of the tricks that travelers employ to help with jet lag actually make it worse.
Before the trip:
Battling jet lag can actually start with the trip planning. While non-stops are always preferred, sometime a connection is unavoidable. Try to ensure that the longest flight segment is the last one. For example, between Portland, OR and Paris, connect in Seattle on the way there, and in Amsterdam on the way home.
The choice of aircraft makes a difference too. The Boeing 787 was introduced four years ago and through its revolutionary construction (its airframe is built from carbon fiber composite materials compared with traditional aluminum airframes), it provides higher cabin humidity and more comfortable cabin pressurization. Both the cabin pressure and humidity levels of traditional aircraft are key contributors to jet lag. Over 30 airlines are operating almost 300 787s, including United Airlines.
We recommend adjusting your sleep patterns one to two nights prior to the flight. In advance of flying east, start to go to bed just one or two hours earlier; and stay up a little later than normal prior to flying west.
Finally, in selecting your seat, while not every has the option to fly business class, many airlines offer a premium economy offering with extra legroom. The ability to stretch your legs out while sleeping (in a plank position), will allow for better blood flow and a more restful experience that standard economy. Also, try to select a window seat so that others don’t disturb you in the night, and you can rest your head on the sidewall.
During your flight:
While many people like to have a drink to help them sleep, alcohol will contribute to dehydration, impacting sleep patterns. Stay hydrated with water or juice. However, if you plan to sleep on the flight, try not to drink too much of anything, or your bathroom visits can disrupt your limited sleep opportunity.
When flying on an overnight flight headed east (US to Europe, for example), try to compact the remainder of your day into the first 2-4 hours of the flight – eat a modest meal and read a little or watch a movie. Following that, aim to sleep about 4-5 hours which should give you enough rest for your first day in Europe.
Once you have reached your destination, your goal should be to immediately adapt to the local time zone – including meal and sleep schedules. Do not take a nap, unless you have had a very early morning arrival, in which case 1-2 hours could help you get through the day. Try to get time outdoors as both sunlight and the fresh air will help you stay alert and help your body adjust. Stretch the day as long as your comfortably able to, allowing you to have a good night sleep.