Life in the UAE often involves a lot of flying on planes, and with travel – particularly long-haul travel – comes jet lag. So we went to a pair of experts: Charlotte Hodgson and David Loftus, who are based in the UAE and have 20 years’ experience as cabin crew. Here they give us their top tips on how to try and reduce, beat and recover from jet lag.
What is jet lag for you?
Charlotte: Not knowing if I’m here, there or somewhere in between; it’s a feeling of limbo.
David: Jet lag for me is when my body’s screaming at me to sleep and feeling like it’s Moscow but I’m in Timbuktu. When you’re so tired that you have that 3am drowsiness. There is very little sense of orientation or coordination.
Is flying east or west harder on your body?
Charlotte: They say west is best, although on occasion I’ve found both hard to adjust to. Coming back west from Australia is definitely one of the worst for me personally.
David: Flying from the US back to Dubai was the worst. You generally leave late afternoon or early evening and arrive in Dubai at the same time of day, meaning it feels like you’ve spent 24 hours on the plane.
What are your pre-flight tips?
Charlotte: Different flights require different planning, there aren’t really any rules. Sometimes jet lag doesn’t affect me at all. But for the ULRs (ultra long-range flights) you have to make sure you are well-rested on the days running up to the flight. Go to bed early and try not to consume alcohol. For example, if I have a ULR on Sunday, I won’t drink on the Friday night as it will disrupt my rest going into the flight. You don’t want to go into jet lag with a prior sleep deficit.
David: Lots of water on pre-flight. Eating a good meal the night before a long flight, which is essentially anything more than nine hours of flight. Anything less than nine hours is like a normal day. Try to have an easy, chilled night before and try to get to bed early as, if you’re like me, it takes a while to get to sleep if you know you have to be up early. The night before l make sure that everything is all packed and ready to walk out the door. I have my outfit hanging or folded and ready to go just in case l sleep in, so I don’t need to panic in the morning. It is all about reducing the stress.
What’s your sleeping pattern before a long flight through time zones?
Charlotte: As crew we don’t have a set routine. So, on my days at home I try to keep to a schedule as much as possible. Up early to train, avoid naps and go to bed early. A routine before bed prepares you subconsciously and helps you fall asleep faster.
David: I just sleep when l need to and then squeeze in a big sleep when my body starts to scream at me. Get to bed early and try to get as much sleep as l can before a long flight as I know l won’t be resting for a while.
What are your tips for what to do during the flight to avoid any jet lag?
Charlotte: Water, water and more water. I finding being hydrated really helps my energy levels. Coconut water is also great! If I’m a passenger I’ll try to sleep on the flight according to my new time zone and avoid alcohol during the flight.
David: Drink plenty of water and try not to have too many alcoholic drinks. During the flight get up after each movie, stretch the legs, do some stretches and get your body moving and the blood flowing.
Any other tips for while on board?
Charlotte: I try to minimize my caffeine levels so I can sleep when I get to my destination, depending on the time zone. And keep on drinking that water. Eat healthy foods at regular intervals – I usually bring my own. A healthy diet helps increase my energy levels and prevents me feeling sluggish.
David: If you can, try to get the aisle seat as it’s easy to get up and go for a walk and to the toilet. There are sometimes screaming kids so if you don’t have your noise-cancelling headphones, get in the middle of the cabin away from the exits, although one of the best seats is an emergency exit window seat. It’s easy to rest your head against the wall and you get extra legroom. Seats near the galley or the toilets are noisy because people are always going in and out.
What are your tips for post-flight?
Charlotte: Stick to the new time zone as much as possible, whether that means going straight to bed or forcing yourself to stay awake all day before an early night. Going outside straight away or keeping your curtains open will help you adjust to your new time zone.
David: As always, drink lots of water, keep the body replenished as much as you can as it is better to go to the toilet a hundred times than not at all. If you can, have a good long shower as your body craves moisture. If the flight lands lunchtime onwards stay awake till night to get in synch with the time at the destination.
Are there any go-to vitamins or supplements that you take to assist with recovery?
Charlotte: ZMA supplements (zinc magnesium aspartate) every night. Regardless of the flight, it’s my go-to supplement for sleep and very good for you. I haven’t found any others in particular that have made a huge difference. I think getting back into your routine is key rather than taking any supplements.
David: l take multi-vitamins first thing in the morning and just before bed. They give me all my daily needs. I make sure I drink at least three liters of water for sure.
How does flying impact your sleep?
Charlotte: It has a huge effect, but is manageable if you’re sensible. You can’t outrun a sleep deficit. If I’m tired I’ll allow myself a morning to lie in and wake up naturally. I find on occasion I might sleep a solid 12 hours compared to my usual eight, but then I’m good again and get back into my usual routine.
David: It affects me greatly as that’s how l pick when l sleep and how much sleep l will be getting. Sometimes you know you won’t be getting a decent sleep for a few days so you just power through.
How can you avoid jet lag after landing?
Charlotte: Keep busy, go to the gym, see friends, go for a walk, anything. If you sit at home you will fall asleep and that will just mess up your sleep even more in the long run.
David: If l land in the morning, I have a power nap for a maximum of two hours and then force myself up and have a light breakfast with a coffee and then explore or do something active.
How does your airline look after you with regard to timetables and flying direction?
Charlotte: We have certain rules regarding how much time we need between east and west flights, which really helps. They’ve also provided us with information on our circadian rhythms to help us manage our rest efficiently.
David: You have a minimum rest between flights which is 16 hours, but also a minimum rest of two days after very long flights. Apart from that, it’s your responsibility to control your sleep and rest.
If you could give one piece of advice on how to avoid or lessen the effects of jet lag, what would it be?
Charlotte: Mind over matter. You’ll be surprised what your body can do. Even if you’re tired, push through the day. Take a tiny nap only if it’s needed.
David: Drink lots of water pre-, during, and post-flight, stroll around the cabin and stretch during the flight and stay on local time in your destination for sleep patterns and get lots of oxygen post flight as its great for the body.
Featured photo Xandro Vandewalle/Unsplash
Mitch is a former semi-professional athlete, personal trainer and physical education teacher who has decided to explore the world and work with his partner in their adventure travel business. When not flying off to exotic destinations, Mitch can be found on the beaches of Dubai waiting for that next wave.