Whether you’re on holiday or on a business trip, being in a different time zone can wreak havoc on your normal sleep pattern, leaving you lethargic, irritable and headachy – typical symptoms of jet lag.
Most people need about seven to eight hours’ sleep each night, although some can function on less. Even those who normally sleep well at home can experience sleep disruption when travelling, which can also affect your mental wellbeing, including relationships with people and decision making.
So, what is jet lag?
When you’re flying across different time zones, your body’s normal circadian rhythm – your body clock – is disrupted. Normally, your biological clock knows when it’s morning and evening, when to feel hungry and when to go to sleep. Being in a different time zone upsets this; it can take several days to adjust.
How to get over jet lag
To reduce jet lag and improve your ability to sleep when you arrive, we suggest you:
- avoid eating too much or drinking alcohol, as both can cause drowsiness and alcohol causes dehydration
- cut down on caffeine; drink other fluids and water to keep hydrated
- remain active, especially on long flights; stretch your legs and arms and move around whenever possible
- alter your watch at the start of the flight to begin adjusting to the new time zone
- get some sleep if it’s already night at your destination; use an eye mask and earplugs to block out light and noise. Otherwise, try and stay awake so you can sleep at the proper time when you arrive
On arrival, get into the local routine as soon as possible (e.g. if it’s breakfast time, eat breakfast). Spend time outside during the day – the natural light helps your body clock adjust.
If you’re travelling for four days or less, aim to stay on ‘home time’ wherever possible, eating and sleeping at the same time as you would at home.
How to get a good night’s sleep on your travels
To maximise the chance of getting enough sleep quickly, make your new environment as ‘sleep friendly’ as possible. If space allows, pack your own pillow, and avoid drinking too much caffeine in the evening.
Where a hot climate – or room temperature – is an issue:
- sleep under a cotton sheet
- have a cool shower before bed to lower your body temperature
- use a small spray bottle filled with water to spray on your skin and cool you down
- use the room fan; its ‘white noise’ also helps block out background noises
- keep the curtains closed during the day to prevent the room overheating
At the very least, try to get a minimum of four hours’ sleep in a 24-hour period.
This edited article originally appeared on AXA PPP Healthcare.