Sarah Ann-Macklin is a model and nutritionist who knows a thing or two about long-haul travel and how to prevent pesky jet lag. But did you know you can beat it with nutrition and EVEN only travelling on certain aircrafts? Here, she shares her ultimate guide to beating jet lag.
As a constant traveller, I have flown weekly for the past 12 years with jet lag as my sidekick. I am expected to turn up fresh eyed and perky on set, yet the reality is I would arrive blurry eyed, drowsy and with a bloated stomach. Traveling and jet lag generally do take a toll on our health, leaving you feeling slightly worse for wear and unprepared to explore your new destination.
What is jet lag and what are its long-term health effects?
Travel fatigue is associated with long journeys irrespective of a change in times zones, however traveling across more than three time zones can cause jet lag which leaves us feeling fatigued, disorientated, nauseous, a loss of appetite, gastrointestinal issues and muscle and joint pain. Jet lag has also been shown, according to studies on flight attendants, to have longer term health consequences including an increased risk of cancer, infertility and heart disease.
So why does jet-lag affect us so badly? Our internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm is set to just a little over 24 hours. This internal body clock has control over hormone production, body temperature, sleep patterns and appetite. Our circadian rhythm is synchronised to the light and dark cycle of our regular environment, and this is where jet-lag plays a part. When travelling to a different time zone this rhythm becomes desynchronised due to the change in time of regular light exposure in the new environment. This can be accelerated with the general fatigue caused by travel such as getting up early to catch a morning flight or simply, dehydration due to filtered cabin air being so dry, not to mention the free booze on some aircrafts that we just can’t say no to.
Naturally our bodies will begin to acclimatise to the new time zone of our destination however this can be a slow process with our brain catching up only an hour per day that we are in this new environment. However, what can be tricky is once you have begun to readjust you are hopping back onto a plane home. and the pattern repeats itself!
It is well known that the direction of travel across meridians will also impact the severity of jet lag. Traveling Eastwards makes the process of travel considerably harder for the body to readjust than it is traveling Westwards. This is due to two factors. Firstly, when traveling eastwards we are forced to fall asleep earlier than usual which is difficult to make the body, do if our mind is willing us to stay awake. The second reason is linked with the time length of our natural circadian rhythm. As this is set to just over a 24-hour period, this makes our attempt at stretching the day out longer and willing the body to stay up later when traveling Westwards ever so slightly easier.
Jet-lag interferes with our sleep, and we know sleep deprivation can seriously affect our health. A study looking at jet lag and athletic performances, found regular travel impacted psychological and physiological parameters in participants even when sleep is only reduced by a few hours.
So, I hear you ask, what can we do to help? Although there is no way to completely avoid jet lag (other than to not travel across time zones at all) we can aim to increase the pace at which our body adjusts.
Tips to help improve the insufferable jet lag have been on my list for a while now to help make jet lag a little more bearable. I recently travelled to Australia, probably one of the worst destinations for jet lag if traveling from the UK. The thought of jetlag did worry me, and I was worried it may affect a large chunk of my holiday. I didn’t want to arrive dazed and fall asleep at dinner at 6pm. So, I self-experimented and I truthly didn’t experience any jet lag!
The Rules: Reset your clock to the time of the destination before boarding the plane…
The most obvious is to adapt immediately to your new environment's timings, even before landing. For example, I was flying in the morning at 9am, however this meant it was night time in Sydney. I therefore, slept the first leg of the trip, and stayed awake through mugs of coffee, green tea. By the time you arrive, you will be ready to get to your hotel and sleep. This works in reverse too- if it will be day time in your arrival destination try to get as much sleep as possible throughout your journey. Although it may be tempting to knock back a few glasses of wine to set yourself off into a slumber, try to avoid consuming alcohol during a flight.
Keep hydrated and put down the free booze…
When flying, we tend to consume far less water than we usually do, this combined with the dry air circulating the cabin, the change in air pressure, means alcohol can have a more negative effect on our bodies than it would on land. This causes us to become more dehydrated and groggier. Maximising sleep and making small adjustments to routine the week prior to the flight can also be helpful in regulating the sleep cycle.
Switch up meal times the week before…
As well as adjusting to the sleep schedule of your destination it is also a good idea to do the same with meals. Make sure you do not consume too large a meal in the airport/ on the flight before you are set to get some sleep, as this can affect the body's core temperature. Sleeping on a plane with an overly full stomach is also not particularly comfortable! Consumption of sugar and caffeinated drinks can also inhibit sleep, therefore avoid these in the hours before flying.
Invest when going long-haul, your body will thank you…
Alongside the above, I travelled business class with Cathay pacific airlines. The past two times I have visited Australia I travelled economy, and I must say if you are going to make an investment in any part of your trip, this should be it! The times before when I had travelled economy to Australia, I arrived feeling groggy, tired and all over the place. I probably lost out on around four full days of holiday because I was too tired to stay awake past 4pm, or I’d be awake at 3am. Either way, it wasn’t fun. This time around I managed a solid 10 hours un-interrupted kip, which is unheard of when you travel. I melted into the Cathy pacific flatbed seats, alongside fluffy pillows and a soft duvet and crucially fully flat beds!
Avoid salty and sugary snacks, fizzy drinks, alcoholic beverages. These will exaggerate digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, gas alongside blood sugar spikes.
Normally when I am catching connecting flights or embarking on the second leg of a long journey is when I start to feel discomfort around my stomach and have normally consumed packets of salted pretzels which have left me dehydrated. Diet plays a huge part in how we feel, especially when we fly. I didn’t once feel anxious about a cardboard plate of food arriving in front of me on this flight. I know I can be a food snob, but this is my job and bad food makes me feel rubbish. Luckily for me Cathay pacific regards their food as one of their selling points. They source local and sustainable ingredients that are in season. I was served butternut squash soup which was bursting with more flavours than my local Italian restaurant for an entrée, followed by Mediterranean salad with roasted vegetables and mozzarella, and finished with a selection of fine chocolates and peppermint tea. I am not quite sure high life could get any better, or help me stay awake, as my body was fighting to sleep.
The type of aircraft you travel on can REALLY affect your jet lag…
Alongside all of this the aircraft A350, which I travelled on was 50% quieter in terms of external noise. The LED cabin mood lighting gave a relaxed cabin ambience that helps to reduce jetlag. Plus, a higher cabin pressure supplies more oxygen and the cabin air filters delivered pure fresh air.
Cathay Pacific now offers a choice of three routes between the UK and Hong Kong, and onwards to over 190 destinations globally. These include five flights daily from London Heathrow, and daily flights from Gatwick Airport and Manchester Airport. Currently, the Gatwick and Manchester routes feature the new A350. For further information, visit or call 0800 917 8260. Prices: Business, £4,159; Premium Economy, £2,239 and Economy,£989