Managing sleep and time zones can take the fun out of Christmas travel. from www.shutterstock.com
Long-haul flights over several time zones present two main challenges:
1. travel fatigue – the effects of sleep loss, restricted movement and dehydration associated with spending many hours on a plane, and
2. jetlag – the effects of the mismatch between your body clock and the time in your new location.
However, there are ways to minimise disruption to your sleep patterns and body clock when you travel.
The guidelines shown below are similar to those recently used by the Socceroos to help them overcome the jet lag associated with back-to-back games in Honduras and Australia. The result is that they’ll be heading to next year’s World Cup.
Research suggests that there are several things you can do to facilitate adjustment to time zone changes. These include:
• exposure to, and avoidance of, light at certain times
• intentional scheduling of sleep and wakefulness
• use of drugs that can alter sleepiness and/or the timing of the body clock
• timing and type of food eaten.
As detailed below, we have prepared schedules for exposure to sunlight and low light to follow for 4-5 days after arriving in your new location.
The main difficulties with long-haul flights are dehydration, physical discomfort, and sleep loss. To address this, you should:
• minimise your intake of diuretics, or fluids that increase urine production, such as alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks
• drink water regularly, at least 100ml per hour
• stretch regularly when seated
• take a walk every hour when awake.
It can be difficult to get good sleep on a plane. The best strategy is to target sleep during night time in your departure city, and stay awake at other times.
To help sleep aboard the plane, recline your seat, keep your head stable with the headrest, use eye masks and ear plugs if required, and ask flight attendants not to disturb you.
Try not to miss sleep due to playing computer games or watching movies during your sleep target zones.
Melatonin is produced by your brain during the night to signal that it is time to be asleep, and it can be taken as an effective sleeping tablet in controlled circumstances. However if you don’t get the timing right, it can have unanticipated effects on your body clock.
Sleeping tablets can be effective, but can also impair concentration, coordination and alertness the next day, and issues of tolerance and dependence may arise. However, if required, short half-life non-benzodiazepines are preferred to benzodiazepines as they tend to have less negative impact on waking function the next day. Consult your doctor for advice on how to use these, and for a prescription if you think they are suitable for your needs.