How To Combat Jet Lag Before, During, And After A Flight

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Holiday travel is in full swing—here’s how to keep looking and feeling refreshed and ready for your vacation.

Even if we’re taking an increasingly conscious approach to travel in light of its impact on the planet, long haul trips are still a part of life for many of us. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or more of an occasional globetrotter, traveling through time zones can have a huge impact on your body. To help you shake off the effects as quickly as possible, here’s Vogue’s guide to what to do before you fly, while in the air and after you land, in order to feel refreshed, hydrated, and ready to make the most of your trip.

Jet lag and its impact

Keen to find out how to get over jet lag? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. But there are steps you can take to mitigate the effects of the disruption that occurs when the body’s circadian rhythm (our internal 24-hour clock, that syncs everything from eating to sleeping) is thrown off. “Moving through time zones and being exposed to daylight when it would usually be night, and vice versa, can understandably play havoc with how our body functions,” says dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden. “When a traveller crosses time zones, the body uses natural cues like sunlight and an eating schedule to try to acclimatize. But because travel is disorienting for the physical body, it can take a few days before all the natural processes even out and become normalized.”

While jet lag can affect people differently, common issues include dehydration, breakouts, bowel problems, bloating, and irritability. It can also have longer lasting effects on health, with symptoms ranging from fatigue and anxiety to insomnia.

Think about your in-flight experience

In order to give yourself a better chance of adjusting to your new time zone, there are a number of things you can do while you’re in the air. “Fast when you fly,” encourages Lee Mullins, personal trainer and founder of Workshop Gymnasium. “Avoiding eating on a flight is one way to help get your body on the new time zone – and when you arrive at your destination, eat the meal that is relevant to that time of day.” Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water on board and avoid alcohol or coffee, which will exacerbate dehydration both during and after flying. If you know ahead of your trip that you suffer badly with jet lag, it might be worth exploring your carrier options. Some planes (most commonly Airbus A350s and A380s) are now fitted with hi-tech humidification systems to ensure the air retains more moisture, as well as LED lighting that creates up to 16.7 million shades of color to mimic the natural phases of day and night.

Jet lag vs sleep

When we fly across different time zones our production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our regular sleep-wake cycles and bodily function, gets disrupted. “In addition to the impact on our sleep caused by the initial journey, changes in our diet and the temperature around us will also affect sleep and can prolong the feeling of jet lag as we acclimatize,” explains Dr Anna Persaud, CEO of skincare brand This Works. Dehydration caused by very dry air (usually the air in planes is 10 to 20 per cent humidity, sometimes even lower) also disrupts sleep. “Studies have shown that dehydration can lead to a number of sleep issues, including disturbed sleep and sleep apnea. Dehydration can negatively impact the ability of the pineal glands to produce melatonin; and it also impacts our ability to stay asleep and to get into the deeper stages of sleep,” says Mullins.

“Jet lag is usually worse when moving from West to East because travelers lose hours of their day,” says Goldfaden. Flying East to West on the other hand, gives our bodies extra hours to adjust to a time zone and sync up with a new circadian cycle. With that in mind it’s important to plan ahead. “If time permits, the week before travel start to wake up a few hours earlier every day to get your body used to another time zone,” advises Goldfaden. “This is probably best for time zones that will be many hours ahead. If you choose to do this, use a light to stimulate your brain and melatonin levels when waking, as the sun will not be up yet.”

When it comes to sleeping on a flight, “if you can sleep in accordance with the new time zone then it will help you adjust,” says Mullins. “However, because of the environment on a plane, the sleep quality is likely to be poor,” he adds. To increase your chances of getting some shut-eye on your red-eye, take Persaud’s advice: “I always travel with This Works Sleep Power Nap Spray and Napping Hood. The spray was formulated to give an immediate release of our sleep fragrance to get you to sleep fast; while the hood has a neck support pillow to keep you comfy, but also pulls down over your eyes so you’re able to block out the light, and helps to reduce the ambient noise.”

What to do when you land

What you do upon reaching your destination is crucial when it comes to beating jet lag. Exercise regulates the release of two important neurotransmitters—serotonin and neuropeptide Y—which help control your mood, appetite and endocrine function. “If you arrive in the morning, exercise as soon as possible to help to re-regulate your circadian rhythm and boost your energy,” advises Mullins. According to a recent study, exercising earlier in the day, around 7am, or between the hours of 1pm and 4pm helps to get your body clock back on track and adjust to the new time zone, which should help you to feel more refreshed the next day.

If you’re landing later in the day, your goal should be different. “Your goal is to basically get to sleep,” says Goldfaden, “as this is the best way to acclimatize to a new time zone.” If you arrive and you struggle, Mullins says: “Try taking a good quality, natural melatonin supplement. The best melatonin supplements also contain 5-HTP (to promote the production of melatonin) and the amino acid L-Theanine (which relaxes the nervous system).” Eating a carbohydrate-rich dinner such as rice or pasta can help you wind down, as well as foods such as turkey and nuts that contain tryptophan, a brain chemical involved in sleep.

How to combat jet lagged skin

“Stressful security checks, unhealthy airport food, omnipresent air conditioning, cabin pressure, and dry air can all wreak havoc on even the most resilient complexions,” warns Goldfaden. In addition to reduced oxygen to the skin, there’s also the UV exposure through cabin windows to consider, and the lack of sleep both during and after flying brought about by time zone confusion. “Rest is incredibly important for cell turnover and skin recovery—in fact, regeneration happens three times as fast while asleep,” says Goldfaden.

This combination of factors means skin not only suffers while you’re in the air, but also experiences its own form of jet lag after landing. “After just one night of disrupted sleep you can see the impact on your skin with dehydration and dark circles. This means that while jet lag may not show on your skin as you land, it may become more evident as your week goes on if you’re not able to reset your routine quickly,” says Persaud.

To give skin the best chance of recovery, keep things simple. “Going make-up free on the flight is a good idea, but make sure you are wearing an anti-pollution serum and heavy moisturizer or nourishing oil to hydrate,” advises Persaud.

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

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