Flying High – How to Minimise the Impacts of Jetlag

With many clients returning from their European summer vacations, they often struggle with more than just the post holiday blues. Studies have found that people often underestimate the impacts of flying with a 20% decrease in physical and mental performance. It can often take people 2-3 weeks before they are back to normal sleeping patterns and start to feel they are thinking clearly again.

So why does flying take such a toll and how do you minimise its impacts?

Well you can follow the usual sleep on the plane, do your foot circles, limit alcohol and caffeine. But I decided to refer to some scientific literature, including the godfathers of flying NASA.

Here are 3 factors on why jet setting can hit us so hard and how to overcome them

Disrupted Circadian Rhythms

Our circadian rhythms are our 24 hour sleep wake cycle that is based on the light and dark of the environment, when we travel we spin this cycle out of whack. Dr Clifford Saper of Harvard University says our bodies have 2 main ways that this is reset, light and food. Exposure to natural sunlight when you arrive at destination will make your body realise that it is daytime, try to spend as much as much time as you can. Also consider your exposures to artificial light, using eye masks can help to block out unnatural light while flying. The other way to reset your circadian rhythm is through your digestive system. Once you work out the time at your destination aim to fast during the night hours and eat during the daylight hours.

Decreased Humidity

The humidity on aeroplanes is set at 20%, compared to the natural 40-70% on the ground. This cool dry environment means you don’t feel your body losing fluid and can increase risk of dehydration. On average you should be drinking 300mL of water for every 10kg of body weight a day, if you weigh 70kgs that’s around 2 litres of water. Rather than feeling like you have to deprive yourself of alcohol and caffeine, really focus on consuming as much water as possible throughout the flight. This will also help with limiting your sitting, with frequent bathroom visits.

Decreased air pressure and prolonged sitting

The low cabin pressure combined with prolonged sitting makes your blood flow stagnate, hence the increased risk of conditions such as Deep Vein Thrombosis. While on the plane you can combat this by walking to the furthest toilet from you and while you are there do 10-15 squats. This will help get some fresh blood pumping around your body and help you feel fresher once you reach your destination. Back in 1987, University of Toronto researcher Dr. Nicholas Mrosovsky put a group of hamsters through an eight-hour time change, and then made half of them run on an exercise wheel in the new time zone while the others slept. The exercised hamsters adjusted to the new time zone in 1.5 days on average, while the sleepers took 8.5 day.

I usually approach studies that use animals as test subjects with scepticism, as humans aren’t hamsters. However other studies have also shown the benefits of exercise in resetting your circadian rhythms to overcome jetlag, with a group of flight crew travelling from Tokyo to Los Angeles. At your destination, try to exercise at the time you would normally at home. You don’t have to set a new personal best but exercise seems to be the best medicine when it comes to overcoming jetlag.

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