What is jet lag and how you can beat it
It’s the bane of all travellers — so how can we beat the time-difference hangover? EMMA CHITTY reports
Going away for the winter holidays?
Getting away from the mid-year grind is one of the highlights of the year for many of us — and a time we certainly don’t want affected by the dreaded jet lag.
While it’s not possible to completely eradicate jet lag, it is possible to reduce how much we’re plagued by it.
Ian Dunican, researcher at the Centre for Sleep Science, School of Human Sciences at the University of Western Australia, relays some information on how to do just that.
What are the main ways in which jet lag affects us?
“The main way jet lag impacts our bodies is to disrupt our circadian system — a 24-hour cycle which everyone operates on,” Mr Dunican says.
“The circadian system can only be synchronised with natural light, which affects what’s called the SCN in our brain — that becomes disrupted when we go into a different time zone.”
How does this affect how we function?
“From a cognitive point of view, we find it very difficult to process information — we make errors, we find it difficult to understand things or do complex tasks,” Mr Dunican says. “From a physical point of view, you’re going to find you get disruption in the gut, plus we may get bloated and be hungry at odd times, with energy levels varying across the day.”
What are some myths you’ve heard to cure jet lag that aren’t scientifically supported?
“Travelling north to south does not cause jet lag — if you fly from Perth to Singapore, you can’t experience jet lag from that,” Mr Dunican says.
“Another thing we heard is that consuming alcohol to help you sleep on the plane is beneficial — this isn’t good because you’re disrupting your system, you’re going to feel hungover and be dehydrated and it’s just going to make you feel worse.”
Mr Dunican says that consuming over-the-counter melatonin is not always the best idea, either.
“We need to be careful when we start taking sleeping aids such as melatonin or sleeping tablets — the melatonin you buy in a health food shop isn’t prescription melatonin, so we don’t actually know what’s in it,” he says.
“Using it over the counter strategically for jet lag may not actually be adequate whatsoever.”
What can we do to reduce jet lag before we leave home?
“The first thing would be to try and control light and dark before you leave home — for example, if you normally go to bed at10 o’clock and you’re going to be travelling to Sydney, try to start moving that back to eight o’clock to adapt to their time,” Mr Dunican says. “You may also want to bring your meals forward.”
What can we do to reduce jet lag once we’re at our destination?
“I recommend following the local cues — if it’s 12 o’clock in the day when you get there, go and have some lunch,” Mr Dunican says.
“Have dinner around five o’clock, watch the sun go down and go to bed at a normal time — at least try and get on to that local time zone.”
It is possible to reduce how much we’re plagued by jet lag. Picture: Getty Images