Jet lag happens to us all when we travel.
But for flight attendants, it's a regular occurrence — and they know a lot more than most travellers about adjusting to different time zones.
To find out how cabin crew tackle jet lag on the job, we spoke to flight attendant and author of “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crash Pads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet”, Heather Poole, and combined her advice with our own research, including this Quora thread on how other airline staff avoid this side effect of travel.
Here's what you can do to beat jet lag:
Flying can leave you feeling dehydrated. And when you're dehydrated, your body isn't well prepared to adjust to a different time zone, according to WebMD.
“Hydration is key,” Poole said, to helping prevent jet lag. Her advice: “Drink a ton of water.”
While drinking lots of fluids is important, WebMD advises limiting caffeine intake, since that can impact your energy levels.
Nap whenever — and wherever — you can.
"If you have to take a nap, do it,” Poole said, explaining that a power nap can help keep jet lag at bay. “Just don't oversleep. 3-4 hours is all you need."
Former flight attendant Ned Abbey wrote on Quora that “sleeping when and where you can is very common” in the industry. “It is not unusual to see many FAs sleeping in the FA lounge, out of public view,” she said.
But it might not be such a great idea to nap as soon as you arrive. The NHS advises sleeping at an ordinary time in your destination, so your body can sync quicker to a new time zone.
Or just get out and about so that you don't just fall asleep, Poole suggests.
“When I'm tired I find working out or going outside to walk around, exploring a new city, works wonders,” the flight attendant said.
Being outside exposed to sunlight also eases the transition into a new time zone. “Natural daylight will help your body adjust to a new routine following most flights,” the NHS explains on its website.
Let the light in.
Being exposed to light can help teach the body to feel more awake. That's why it's a good idea to introduce some light into your room when waking up.
“Leave the TV on or the curtains slightly open,” Poole recommends, “to make waking up a little easier.”
WebMD recommends going on a walk for an hour when you wake up in a new destination to help your body adjust even more.
Go to bed earlier.
"If you go to bed earlier than you would normally, do it,” Poole said. “The thing to remember is you want to get a good night's sleep so you can wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.”
WebMD advises easing into your destination's time zone by adjusting your sleep schedule a few days before you arrive.
As Poole said: “The secret is trying to get on your new time zone as soon as possible.”
Or stick with the time zone at your origin.
If you maintain the routine you're used to at your origin in a different time zone, you'll be able to “return home and resume [your] daily routine without experiencing problems,” according to Civil Air Patrol cadet Jim Gordon, who wrote on Quora that flight attendants avoid jet lag “by NOT changing their rhythms.”
Flight attendant Paula Mitchell agrees: “By sticking to your routine this may mean you are eating at 3am but it keeps your body in a regular sleeping pattern for when you return home,” she wrote on Quora.
Of course, it's easier said than done — to stay consistent with your usual routine, you'll need to block out light and expose yourself to light around your sleep and waking schedule, and eat at different times to others around you.
Give yourself — and others — a break.
“When people are tired, they become sensitive to things that might not bother them normally,” Poole said. “Keep that in mind when you're dealing someone who's been traveling.”
Flying is tiring for regular fliers, so you can't possibly imagine how exhausted flight attendants can feel after working long-haul shifts. Though it's easier to deal with jet lag if people around you are more sensitive to how you're feeling.
So the next time you're on a long-haul flight, you might want to treat the cabin crew with a little more courtesy.
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