Key strategies to reduce the impact of jet lag
Having established that, for long trips, especially when crossing multiple time zones, there are likely negative performance consequences, the big question is, what can we do about it? Below we will consider some pre-, during and post-travel strategies to help shake that funk as best we can.
Prior to travel
Firstly, it is important to try to embark on your journey in as fresh a state as possible. So, attempt to get a good night’s sleep leading up to your journey. It has also been recommended it may be useful to begin to adjust your sleep and waking time by one hour each day in the two or three days leading up to travel (especially when flying east). Greater adjustment than this is likely to be disadvantageous, with periods longer than two to three days likely to be too disruptive to an individual’s days before travel.
Once on the plane, it is recommended travellers attempt to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Many sports science departments are now taking this very seriously. During the Olympics, we saw special pillows on planes to aid rest, which you can even pick up yourself through the Team GB mattress sponsor. Incidentally, it was recently found that business class travel led to better sleep quality and quantity as well as reducing some jet lag effects – something to keep in mind if you’re looking to barter with the boss!
It has also been recommended athletes change their watches to the time at destination upon travel to aid the mindset shift. Sleep should then ideally take place during the ‘new’ night-time. Specifically, in the hour prior to attempting to sleep, it is advised to restrict computer, TV, and phone use. Loose fitting clothing, an emphasis on hydration and refraining from alcohol and caffeine have also been recommended. These interventions are based on evidence that exposure to light and noise can reduce sleep quality – aim to increase comfort and induce the physiological state required for sleep onset without pharmacological aids.
Upon arrival when having travelled west
Once you arrive at your accommodation, it has been suggested a short nap may be useful. This is aimed at suppressing the desire to go to sleep that can creep in when we extend our days by flying west. It is important, though, to keep this nap short (around 20 mins seems a good estimate) and seek some form of activity in the daytime once you’re up and about. This can lead to greater exposure to daylight, which can also aid the reduction of some jet lag symptoms.
You may also feel like going to bed 1 to 2 hours earlier than usual, subsequently waking earlier too. Don’t fret, though – this should pass after spending a few days in your new time zone.
Upon arrival when having travelled east
Things are a little trickier when we’ve flown east. This is because frustratingly, the time you feel most tired coincides with night-time in your origin time-zone, which is far from ideal if you’ve arrived into glorious sunshine at your destination. The key to cracking this and resynchronising your body clock is through manipulation of light after flying eastwards.
This comes through making the most of the positive effects of natural light at the right time. The problem with crossing many time-zones (e.g., six to nine hours) to the east is that a morning arrival worsens this issue. In such instances, the use of light shades on the plane and dark glasses en route to the immediate accommodation can minimise light exposure and allow the traveller to retire to bed until late morning if necessary after arriving. Subsequently, light exposure in the ‘new’ afternoon is beneficial.
It would also be beneficial to avoid training the first few mornings and train in the late afternoon instead.