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Health & wellbeing, Travel tips

A new dawn for beating jet lag

Jet lag is always a hot topic with travellers, but particularly after the recent ground-breaking (or air-breaking) non-stop Qantas flight from New York to Sydney.

We’ve seen Alan Joyce and David ‘Kochie’ Koch doing the Macarena in their flying kangaroo pj’s and heard about the special menu that was fed to the business class guinea pigs on the 19-hour flight. The health benefits of these tactics on the ultra-long-haul flight are still being analysed by Monash University scientists, but there’s one thing they already know makes a difference – sunshine!

In a study conducted by Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre in preparation for Project Sunrise, the apt name Qantas has given to its ultra-long-haul mission, it was clear that making a conscious effort to be in the sun on your arrival in a new time zone can help combat jet lag.

“We know that going outdoors for sunlight at the destination is one of the most important strategies for syncing the body clock, but only 47 per cent of passengers made the effort to do it,” said specialist sleep researcher Dr Yu Sun Bin, of Charles Perkins Centre (CPC).

CPC has undertaken research with Qantas into methods to reduce fatigue from long-haul flights. Almost 500 Qantas passengers on international flights longer than nine hours participated in the study. It revealed interesting findings about what travellers think will make us feel better when we touch down.

Two in five (39%) passengers elect to eat healthy foods when they arrive to speed up recovery from the flight.

More than half (54%) of travellers use ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones to help aid sleep on long-haul flights.

One in ten (10%) take sleeping tablets.

24% avoid alcohol on flights, whereas 38% make the mistake of drinking alcohol.

Why is it a ‘mistake’? If you thought a medicinal brandy or Bloody Mary can help when you fly, Dr Bin explains why drinking more than a few glasses of alcohol will make jet lag worse. “It might make us fall asleep faster but beyond a certain point, it also disrupts the quality of sleep and causes dehydration,” says Dr Bin.

How could Project Sunrise influence future flights

Macarena jokes aside, there was a serious scientific approach to the in-flight routine on the first Project Sunrise flight. Crew and passengers were fitted with wearable technology devices to monitor sleep patterns, food and drink consumption, and physical movement. Lighting and in-flight entertainment were also controlled.

The aim of the trial, and ensuing research, is to inform future inflight services and improve wellbeing and comfort during travel.

Here are some Project Sunrise initiatives that you could trial next time you fly:

    • Adopt the time zone of your destination as soon as you get on board – even if it means staying awake.
    • Eat spicy foods and have caffeine drinks while you need to stay awake.
    • Delay drowsiness by doing exercise. Squats, arm stretches and calf raises are good, or could try your own mid-air Macarena!
    • Switch to dairy and carbohydrate-heavier meals before it’s time to go to sleep. Don’t overdo it, but the good old comfort foods will get you snoozing in no time.
    • After waking up, your breakfast meal should be healthy protein and caffeine. Yes, time for a coffee!

To learn more about what it was like on board the longest commercial flight in the world, David Slotnick was one of the 40 passengers and has a great Business Insider review.

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