That dreaded side effect of international travel hell bent on ruining a great time.
After all, days of insomnia, nausea, constipation, and general discomfort can quickly throw a wrench in any vacation or business trip.
Unfortunately, most travelers don’t have a great understanding of what really is this thing we call “jet lag.” As a result, we are woefully under equipped to beat it.
That is why we asked a world-renowned biologist for an explanation and some tips.
What is jet lag?
“The fundamental basis of jet lag is the disruption of your body clock system,” University of Sydney Professor Steve Simpson told Business Insider. “We have what’s known as a circadian clock system that organizes everything about us.”
“It’s a very sophisticated clock system which resides in every cell and organ in our bodies and is controlled by a master control clock in our brain.”
According to Simpson, who is the academic director of the University’s interdisciplinary Charles Perkins Centre that’s dedicated to improving global health, our circadian clock regulates a slew of body functions including sleep, alertness, activity periods, metabolic cycles, and digestion.
Each cycle of the circadian clock runs about 24 hours and is reset each day by a series of cues such as light, temperature cycles, and food.
So what is going on when we take long flights?
“What happens when you go on a long haul flight is you leap from one time zone to another more quickly than your clock can reset itself,” Prof. Simpson said. “Since it can only shift an hour to an hour and a half per day, it leaves you ‘messed up.'”
As a result, your sleep cycles are completely thrown out of whack. As are your cognitive abilities, metabolism, and the peristaltic activity in your gut.
Now, Simpson is working with Qantas to help the airline and its passengers implement strategies to reduce the effects of jet lag. A perfect fit considering many of the Australian airline’s routes criss-cross the globe.
With Qantas, Simpson and his team are working to modify the service schedules, lighting systems, menu composition, and temperature regulation on board its planes. Many of these innovations will be found on Qantas’ new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners set to enter service later this year.
In addition, the team will soon be conducting trials that will monitor actual Qantas passengers to collect data on in-flight behavior patterns.
However, there is plenty the individual passenger can to mitigate the effects of the jet lag.
What you can do to beat jet lag
A few days before your trip, gradually shift your eating, sleeping, and activity patterns along with your light exposure to match that of your destination, Simpson said. Since your body can only adjust an hour and a half per day, base the number of days it will take to complete the transition on how far you travel.
On board the flight, Simpson recommends comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and plenty of water. At the same time, the professor suggests passengers stay away from carbonated drinks which can cause digestive issues in the low air pressure environment of an airplane cabin. He also cautions against over indulging in food and alcohol as well.
In addition, Simpson recommends basing your sleep and activity schedule on board the flight on the time of day at your destination. That means if you’re headed to London then sleep on the plane when it’s night time in London.
When it’s day time at your destination, try to be as active as you can on the plane while exposing yourself to light.
At your destination, Simpson believes it is imperative, especially if you arrive in the morning, to align yourself with the local dining schedule as well as be active and get exposure to light.
Finally, the professor suggests travelers avoid taking midday naps at all costs. According to Simpson, these naps not only leave you groggy and uncomfortable, but they are also counterproductive towards your adjustment to the local circadian schedule.