“Australians have long-haul travel built into their DNA,” says Philip Capps, head of product and service at Qantas. He’s not mistaken. There’s more than 13,000 kilometres between Melbourne and Rio de Janeiro. It’s over 15,000 kilometres from Adelaide to Rome. And between Sydney and Paris there’s a land and sea expanse of nearly 17,000 kilometres. Frequent traveller or otherwise, you’ve probably received the customary “You flew for how many hours?” from someone somewhere in the world when you make mention of your valiant efforts to travel outside of our island nation. Another universal truth? Jet lag is a given. Severe tiredness, irregular hunger patterns, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, indigestion and, perhaps most frustratingly, insomnia are among the long list of physical symptoms associated with long-haul travel. However, to efficiently curb the side effects of flying, it pays to understand the biological processes that contribute to post-flight fatigue. That starts with the circadian rhythm, our body’s own 24- hour clock. “We’re not aware of it on a day-to-day basis, but your body clock is always trying to synchronise itself to the time in your environment,” notes Dr Sun Bin, an epidemiologist and sleep expert at the University of Sydney. “So when we travel overseas across time zones we try to switch our body clocks, and the problem is that our body clock innately – even if we were sitting in total darkness – still continues to run on its programmed 24-hour day.” It takes time to adjust to a new rhythm – experts hypothesise it takes one day for every time zone crossed – but there are ways to fast-track the process. To that end, Qantas has partnered with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to uncover proven methods to limit the effects of jet lag on its passengers. “When the flight is beyond 17 hours, a passenger is in our care for almost an entire circadian rhythm, so what we didn’t want to do was effectively stretch out or fill the space in with sleep and white space,” explains Capps. “We wanted to take a humanistic view of long-haul travel.” Project Sunrise, a series of long-haul research flights made by Qantas, has informed a host of clever protocols, many of which are unbeknown to flyers, to relieve circadian rhythm chaos. “We wanted to think about those things that are less tangible, like state of mind, nutrition, uninterrupted sleep, movement and comfort,” says Capps. This multifaceted approach kicked off in Perth, ahead of Qantas’s inaugural Perth to London non-stop flight, with a new transit lounge featuring a wellbeing studio and light-therapy shower suites (“specific light in terms of the frequency and intensity”, says Capps) with the aim of shifting the body clock towards the arrival time zone before take-off. On board the Project Sunrise trial flights, stretching and light exercise is encouraged, meal times are cleverly spaced to synch with the destination time zone and the menu even boasts sleep-inducing produce. “Certain ingredients help your body create serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin, the hormone our bodies release to naturally go to sleep,” says Capps. Post-flight, however, the simplest practices are still the most effective. Despite most of us experiencing an overwhelming desire to flop straight onto a hotel bed, Bin notes that sun exposure has the single biggest impact on our internal clocks. “The best thing people can do is to go outside in the sun after arrival,” she says. Despite this, recent studies have found that less than half of travellers head outdoors when they arrive at their destination. Moreover, hitting the pillow just 30 minutes earlier (when travelling east) in the week leading up to travel can give your body a head-start on shifting time zones. Digital influencer and content creator Nicole Warne is well-versed on the bugbears of international travel: this year alone she’s boarded more than 25 overseas flights. To ensure she’s fresh on arrival, Warne swears by blue-light-blocking glasses. “Airports and aeroplanes expose us to so much blue light from signs, screens and lights that it disrupts how we naturally produce melatonin and, therefore, our sleep,” claims the New York-based Australian. “In-flight, I either wear a silk eye mask for a deeper sleep or bluelight-blocking glasses for when I’m awake and watching movies. You look crazy, as the glasses aren’t fashionable, but the health benefits far outweigh the strange looks you may receive.” Of course, everyone responds to jet lag, and the resulting lack of sleep, differently. Circadian rhythm adaptability also differs from person to person. “One of the factors might be about your sensitivity to lights … some people’s body clock responds to very low levels of light and their body clock changes in response to that, and other people don’t actually have a response until that light gets brighter,” says Bin. “Maybe the sensitive people are the ones that adapt quickly.” Ditto, a lack of sleep: “How people cope with sleep deprivation or being able to sleep on the plane really impacts [jet lag].” As individual as the effects may be, as a general rule, rituals that promote healthy sleep patterns on land work at 10,000 metres, too. Fuel up on nutritious meals, drink plenty of water, limit alcohol consumption (a Project Sunrise study found 38 per cent of passengers drank alcohol to assist their sleep on flights, even though it’s known to disrupt sleep overall) and avoid caffeine. And although it may be convenient to put the blame on jet lag for all your post-flight misfortunes, Bin warns not to confuse it with common fatigue. “I think a lot of what we think is jet lag is actually fatigue from travel, so anything you can do to make yourself more comfortable will help,” she says, noting seemingly simple things like packing a change of clothes, brushing your teeth and cleansing your face all make the journey more agreeable. While a jet lag cure-all still eludes us, apps like Chronoshift, Entrain and Timeshifter, which utilise algorithms to create ideal sleep, waking and exercise schedules, are a handy way to help the body make a swift time-zone transition. “From what we know at the moment, jet lag is pretty much inevitable; obviously some people have it harder than others. And I guess our language around jet lag is always how to ‘beat’ jet lag and how to ‘cure’ jet lag, and that’s not always helpful. We’re really trying to either reduce it or prevent it being as severe as it can be,” says Bin. “One thing to remember is that the circadian rhythm is dynamic and it can adjust.” This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s January 2020 issue.
Original article published by @VogueAustralia >