Jetlag and how to minimise it

Travelling long haul this summer? Our physio Paul has given us his top tips for reducing jetlag.


What is Jetlag?

Jetlag is the mismatch between the timing of the internal body clock and the external timing of the environment brought about by crossing several time zones in a short space of time. Such large shifts in time zones result in immediate changes to time cues which are driven by the new timings of day (ie light) and night (ie dark). Whilst there is an immediate change in environmental time cues, the the body clock(s) do not adapt immediately - the body clock resets slowly, so 'lags' behind.

Linking this with travel fatigue, a form of tiredness brought on by transition from one location to another or the demands of door to door travel, can lead to sleep disruption, fatigue, mood changes and risk of illness. As a guide, flying east will take one day to recover per hour time zone changed (ie six days for a six hour time difference), flying west will take one day per 1.5 time zones (ie four hours for a six hour time difference).

The type of person you are (eg more effective in the morning or more effective at night) may impact your recovery as well. Evening types will travel west better, delaying their body clock, morning people will do better travelling east, advancing their body clock. As always, some people are never affected by jetlag, but others have a constant battle with the changing of time zones. In general the risk of extreme jetlag crossing fewer than five hours is low and as a result most changes will likely be due to travel fatigue, so travelling west for fewer than five time zones will have little jetlag associated with it. However, this becomes more problematic if you are travelling east for more than six time zones.

Every individual will have their own strategies, but if jetlag is something you struggle with when going away, here are a few tips for pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight periods that may be of some benefit:


To ensure you arrive in the best shape, prior to a long haul flight, it has been recommended that you try going to bed 30 minutes earlier or later for three to four days prior to flying. In theory this should start to shift sleep patterns, if not (especially if delaying sleep) the risk is being sleep deprived if it doesn't work - fitting an extra couple of hours in bed at the other end may not be compatible with work schedules as wel!. Ideally allow yourself to get enough sleep in the build up to the flight and minimise events that take place early morning or late evening and minimise time away from home.


Some strategies focus on time for changes to be made during the flight, however this can be a difficult environment where limiting problems might be a better strategy. The plane environment can be unpredictable (eg turbulence, noisy neighbours, food and drink services) so starting your strategy here is quite high risk. As far as the flight is concerned, sleeping when you feel sleepy is the advised approach to attain more sleep leading to better wellbeing on landing. This sleepy time is likely to be between your usual bed and wake up times. It is unlikely that you will get seven to nine hours undisturbed sleep on a plane!


Due to the immediate changes in environmental time cues, the body clock will begin to align gradually. This can be aided by light exposure as an environmental cue. If trying to advance your body clock (ie on heading east) avoid light in the morning and seek light in the afternoon and vice versa for heading west (lots of light in the morning, less in late afternoon). Start small (eg for eight time zones east seek light for a couple of hours in the morning to begin with) and increase gradually eg by half an hour per day.

These are guidelines that may help, however many people have individual strategies that work best for them. If you do have your own strategies that work it is unlikely these will speed any processes up, however if jetlag is something that affects you, some of this advice may help reduce its effects on you.

Enjoy your trip!

Words by Paul Martin.