Dealing with Jet-Lag

Jet-lag can ruin the start of your overseas holiday or turn that important business meeting into a sleep-deprived marathon. If you don’t have the hefty bank balance for a plush flat bed at the pointy end of the aircraft and you’re stuck in ‘cattle class’, here are some helpful tips to minimise the effects of jet-lag.

What is jet-lag?

Jet-lag (desynchronosis) is a physiological condition that results from the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm (body clock). Put simply, our bodies are programmed to follow a routine during any 24 hour cycle. Jet-lag occurs when you fly across multiple time zones and your normal sleep-wake patterns are knocked out of sync.

The more time zones you cross, the more severe the symptoms. You’ll cross eight time zones between Perth and London and six from Sydney to Los Angeles. Flying from Australia to Asia will usually mean only crossing a couple of time zones and the effect will be minimal … you’ll just need to adjust to the change in seasons.

The effects are usually worse when travelling from west to east. Why is this? Basically, travelllers flying west ‘gain’ time and usually find it easier to adjust. Those travelling east ‘lose’ time and their daily routine for meals, sleep and body functions are pushed ahead by many hours. Still don’t follow … just take our word for it. But not everyone is the same; if you find it better the other way around, we’d love to hear your thoughts.


Jet-lag can be more severe in older people and those less physically fit. Children usually have milder symptoms and recover more quickly than adults.

Symptoms may include:

  • fatigue during the day
  • insomnia at night
  • loss of appetite
  • irritability
  • gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or constipation

Jet-lag is only temporary and even those severely affected should recover in a few days. Complications are extremely rare but may occur in certain predisposed individuals such as those with preexisting heart conditions. Always consult your medical professional if you think you may be at risk.

Prepare in advance

Preparing for a long-haul flight should really start several days before you depart. If you’re flying east, gradually move the time you go to bed forward (earlier). If travelling west, delay going to bed until later. Be conscious of what you eat in the hours before your flight. Avoid starchy, salty and fatty foods or those that can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable during the flight.

Don’t leave all your preparations until the last minute. Navigating your way through check-in, security, and customs and immigration is difficult enough without already feeling pressured and stressed. The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll manage jet-lag.

As soon as you arrive at the departure lounge, set your watch to the destination time. Starting to think in the new time zone will help you to mentally and physically prepare.

Reducing the effects of jet-lag

Almost all travellers on long-haul flights will suffer the symptoms of jet-lag to a lesser or greater extent. Of course, the added comfort of a seat in Premium Economy, Business or First class will help but for those in Economy, it’s a matter of making the most of what you can afford and how well you prepare yourself for the flight.

The more comfortable and less stressed you are during the flight, the better you will feel when you arrive. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines have made some significant improvements in recent years that help with Economy Class comfort and our ability to cope with jet-lag. The Qantas 787 Dreamliner, for instance, has slightly higher cabin pressure and humidity and cabin lighting that adjusts to mimic the time of day at your destination. In-flight meals have improved and are now served at intervals that act as ‘time cues’ for our body.

Selecting a seat with more legroom, wearing loose-fitting cloths, adjusting your sleep patterns, eating light, nutritious meals, and staying hydrated during the flight will give you a head start combating jet-lag (see our previous post Surviving a Long-haul Flight for more details).

Will taking a sleeping tablet or a herbal remedy help? It’s not our roll to provide advise on any sort of medication or alternative remedies. You should consult your medical professional before taking anything that you’re not familiar with. However, the best treatment for jet-lag is to adopt strategies to prevent, or at least minimise, its effects without popping a pill.

Opinions are divided on whether selecting a flight that arrives in the morning or one arriving in the early evening can make a difference. Morning arrivals assumes you’ve had some sleep on the flight and the exposure to sunlight at your destination will help reset your body clock. But don’t make the mistake of diving under the covers as soon as you check into your hotel or you’ll find yourself staring at the ceiling at 2am. And don’t confine yourself to your hotel room when you arrive; get outside and take a walk. If you must have a rest, make it a 20-minute power nap.

Arriving in the late afternoon will allow you to have a light supper and then retire for a good nights sleep in a comfortable bed. In this case, not sleeping on board for at least the last six hours or so will help you adjust to the new time zone.

Of course, your airline’s schedule may not allow you the option to choose your preferred arrival time and you could find yourself landing at your destination at midnight. However, giving some thought about how to prepare yourself and how you spend your time in the air could make the difference between feeling like you’ve gone ten rounds in the ring or feeling relatively refreshed and ready to face the world. And if your schedule permits, don’t throw yourself straight into sightseeing or that business meeting but make the first day a ‘light duties’ day.

Good luck with your holiday or business trip. We hope you found this article helpful and would love to hear your comments on how you dealt with the effects of jet-lag.

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