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How Do Pilots Conquer Jet-lag?

How Do Pilots Conquer Jet-lag?

Carl Rackman offers six top tips to help Airline Staff and Pilots recover from long haul flights.

Written by Carl Rackman

The most regular question I was asked throughout my long-haul days was “How do you cure jet-lag?”

My answer was always the same, "You can’t cure jet-lag, you just learn to manage it."

One of the hallmarks of the airline pilot, like the year-round tan and regular bouts of food poisoning, is jet-lag; the effects of disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm.

The body typically takes one to two days to adjust to a one-hour change of circadian rhythm, as the annual changes to Daylight Saving Time demonstrate. But it means an eight-hour flight east or west will take over a week to fully adapt if you do nothing. On a three-day trip to China or Japan, doing nothing is not an option!

My own routine served me very well for short layovers in faraway destinations. The key factor is sleep. Getting enough of the right kind of sleep in a 24-hour period will relieve many of the other undesirable side-effects of jet-lag.

Top Tips

1. Sleep whenever you can during the flight. A four-hour sleep gives the mind and body a full cycle of sleep.

2. Stay hydrated. Drink at least two litres of water on a flight, and have bottled water throughout your stay, taking frequent sips. Dehydration often follows jet-lag and adds to the risk of headaches and diarrhoea.

3. If travelling east, sleep for at least two hours as soon as you get in if you can. Try to get two sleeps a day until you adapt; one at night and an afternoon or early evening nap.

4. If travelling west, try to stay up until at least 8.00p.m. local time. Even if you wake again at 2.00 a.m., you’ve managed a full sleep cycle. Try to take a nap the following afternoon or early evening, then stay up till 11.00 p.m. or later the same night.

5. Avoid large alcohol intake on the first night. The body automatically prioritises the type of light, deep or REM sleep it needs most. Alcohol severely disrupts this natural selection method.

6. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Regardless of your destination, it will usually correspond to one of your main meal times in your home time zone.

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