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The Jet Lag Bible

This is the definitive guide to making a long-haul trip not such a haul.

Jet lag's toll is often a first day abroad lost to fitful naps, less-than-engaging meetings and general crankiness. It's caused by time change conflicting with circadian rhythms. Since those rhythms influence a long list of bodily functions, from sleep-wake cycles to hormone release, the symptoms are diverse and numerous: insomnia, exhaustion, reduced ability to concentrate, indigestion, respiratory issues, and more. For each time zone crossed, it takes one day to correct your internal clock and traveling east is also much harder than traveling west. So if you're flying 24 hours from New York to Bali, you're going to want to game the (circadian) system. Here are the methods to help prevent, manage and recover from jet lag.


IN THE DAYS BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT:

1. ADJUST YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE.
Acclimate to the destination's time zone ahead of time by shifting your sleep schedule a few days prior to departure. “This involves waking up and going to bed one hour progressively earlier or later (depending on which way you're traveling) each day for three days," says Brian St. Pierre, RD, of Precision Nutrition. However, if you're going on a long flight, but your trip's only a night or two, you'll never have time to adjust, so better to stay on your original time zone. (This is something that Joyce Cheung, a San Francisco-based member of the Cathay cabin crew, does to keep centered on her frequent flights.)

2.SWEAT, STRETCH, AND ROLL.
Exercise the day before to help with circulation, and practice self-myofascial release, says Jill Miller, creator of Equinox's RX Series and author of The Roll Model. Use a foam roller or a tennis ball, pressing the tool into stiff muscles, especially ones that are taxed while seated for long periods of time (such as shoulders, neck, and lower back). “This way you will minimize the additional stiffness that will likely show up from the excessive sitting you'll be doing en route," she says.

3. PREP AND PACK SNACKS.
While there's some interesting research on how fasting can help prevent jet lag, it's not practical for frequent fliers. Dana James, MS, who practices functional medicine in New York City, maps out her total travel time—including the time it takes to get to the airport and through security—and creates a healthy snack plan that includes immune-boosting ingredients. Sip a vegetable smoothie on the way to the airport for an easy, powerful dose of phytonutrients. And pack snacks such as goji berries for their vitamin C, iron and fiber; pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts and mulberries also offer antioxidants.

4. CONTROL YOUR PRE-FLIGHT VARIABLES.
Stress can exacerbate jet lag and although some amount of angst is inherent to travel, be proactive in your planning. (Packing into the wee hours, grabbing a couple hours shut-eye and high-tailing it to the international terminal is not a Zen way to get on the plane.) And go easy on the alcohol, too.

5. BE AN ACTIVE TRAVELER.
"Take every opportunity to stay mobile," Miller says, since you're about to be still for a long period of time and your circulation can suffer. Forgo the moving walkway and even the escalator, and pick up your suitcase and carry it “like we did in the ‘old days.'"

IN THE AIR:

1. SHIFT YOUR SCHEDULE TO THE NEW TIME ZONE.
When you board, change your watch; it's a small act, but will help you start to acclimate to the time zone you're headed to. On the flight, abide by your bedtime and morning routines (brushing your teeth, washing your face, reading a book, etc.). These rituals may help cue your brain to sleep or wake-up mode. And sleep when it's nighttime at your destination. You can take melatonin (3 to 5 mg) to urge your body to sleep.

2. KEEP MOVING...

Once on the plane, switch the position you're sitting in often to keep your hips mobile, and stand up and walk the aisle as often as you can, stretching your arms overhead and pressing hands into the overhead bins for a deeper stretch. And execute these seat and aisle stretches, too.

3. ...AND ROLLING.

Cabin pressure affects circulation, so Miller recommends taking therapy balls (or a plain old tennis ball) with you and using them to roll out your glutes and hamstrings on the seat, and pinning them behind your spine. Then kick off your shoes and roll the balls beneath your feet to keep your lymphatic system flowing, which helps with immunity, Miller explains.

4. HYDRATE.
Air travel is dehydrating, so make sure you're drinking water consistently throughout the flight, and James recommends bringing a hydration mist for your face, too, since “any kind of mist you use is going to feel like a self-care practice," for a sense of calm. Alcohol is dehydrating (and can cause a less-restful sleep), so partake in moderation.

5. MEDITATE IN YOUR SEAT.

Whenever you have five minutes, practice meditation, says Julian Corvin, education program coordinator at the Kadampa Meditation Center in New York City. “The benefits are many: You reduce emotional fatigue, increase a sense of connection with other people around you and reduce anxiety," she says. You can do a breath meditation, which means focusing on your breath at the exclusion of everything else. And try practicing a Buddhist mantra, “Om ah Hum," which means body, speech and mind. When you inhale, recite in your mind “Om," between the inhale and exhale, think “ah," and let your breath out with “Hum." If you are looking for a guided meditation, download one from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

6. PRACTICE SELF-ACUPRESSURE.

Instead of using acupuncture needles, acupressure helps stimulate certain points on the body that correspond to organs or systems that could use some attention during an overnight flight, explains Chandra Scofield, a Los Angeles-based acupuncturist. For each, she recommends pressing into the spot for about a minute, until it's a bit sore. 

From the top of your head down:
Third eye: Located just above the center of your eyebrows, pressing this point calms and helps put you to sleep. Place your elbows on your seat-back tray and rest the weight of your head on your index or middle fingers.

Pericardium 6: Find it on the underside of your arm, about three fingers width down from your wrist. This is a calming point for both nerves and digestion. Use this point to settle into the flight or if your stomach's upset.

ST 36: You'll notice a small divot outside and down from your kneecap. Press and hold, or continuously press and release that spot. This is a sensitive spot that'll help energize you.

Liver 3: It's on the top of your foot just below where your big toe and second toe meet. This is an emotionally soothing point that'll help put you to sleep and is effective if you're dehydrated, tired or overly worried.

WHEN YOU ARRIVE:

1. SEEK OUT SUNLIGHT.
It may be difficult if you're tired, but if you arrive at noon, resist the temptation to conk out. “Light is the signal to your brain that helps set your sleep and wake cycle," explains St. Pierre, so the best thing to do is to expose yourself to as much sun as possible during daylight hours in your new time zone.

2. MAINTAIN YOUR EXERCISE SCHEDULE.
While St. Pierre says there isn't a lot of research on exercise itself actually reducing jet lag, “if you've been sitting for so many hours, it can help you feel better and get your blood pumping." Even better: Send more signals to your circadian clock by working out at the same time you normally do in your own time zone (so if you usually run at 7:00 a.m., go for a run at 7:00 a.m. local time), and do it outside as the sun's coming up, for more light exposure.

3. EAT AT YOUR USUAL MEAL TIMES.

Harvard researchers find that food can send cues to your body that affect your circadian rhythms, so try to set a normal meal schedule that mirrors the one you have at home. If you usually eat dinner at 8 p.m. in Eastern Standard Time, try to dine at 8 p.m. in Hong Kong Time, too.

4. KEEP TAKING MELATONIN.
After landing, melatonin can also help you get back on track. “It can speed up the adjustment of your circadian rhythm," says St. Pierre, mainly by helping you get to sleep at the appropriate time. Take it one hour before bedtime for three consecutive nights after landing. There are natural sources of melatonin, too, such as tomatoes, olives, barley, rice and walnuts, though concentrated supplements are significantly more effective, explain scientists from the University of Helsinki. Different wine varietals have different levels of melatonin—Nebbiolo is higher than Cabernet Franc, for example. You can also seek out foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep (especially alongside melatonin). These include turkey, beef, cod, and certain plant sources such as asparagus and soybeans.—Lisa Elaine Held


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