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The Qantas Approach To Jet Lag

Joanna Hall

Sometimes I suffer from it terribly and sometimes I don't. It's something which every long haul flyer will experience at some point or other, but what can you do to combat the inevitable and dreaded jet lag? If you’re a Qantas passenger, thanks to a world’s first collaboration between the airline and one of Australia’s leading academic institutions, jet lag may be eliminated in the not too distant future. The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre will work with Qantas to help develop a new approach to long haul travel ahead of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights this year. The centre brings together researchers across a variety of fields from nutrition to physical activity, sleep and complex systems modelling, with research projects including strategies to counteract jet lag, on-board exercise and movement, food offerings and service timing, pre and post-flight preparation, transit lounge wellness concepts and cabin environment including lighting and temperature. This includes new menus by Neil Perry, who is teaming up with the best scientific minds to design the best possible menu to look after both health and hunger in the air, with a range of healthy poke bowls and a herbal tea among the new dining choices.

Jet lag isn't an illness, but a combination of fatigue and other symptoms caused by travelling quickly across different time zones. To touch on science for a moment, the reason why we get out of whack is that the body is fine-tuned to respond to night and day by the action of sunlight through brain chemicals, especially melatonin. Many of our bodily processes and functions are timed on this 24-hour physiological ‘clock’, including our digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, and even the state of our brain. Travelling to a different time zone disrupts the clock, also called our circadian rhythm, resulting in jet lag. Add to that a lack of sleep before and during travel, and jet lag can feel much worse. Many people have different symptoms when they suffer from jet lag, but commonly they include fatigue, sleepiness, difficulty making decisions, impaired judgment, irritability and apathy. Some people also report digestive upsets, and even memory lapses. Evidence suggests that flying east or west can make a difference to jet lag, with experts believing your body clock is less confused if you travel westbound, possibly down to a prolonging of the body clock’s experience of its normal day-night cycle. Travelling eastbound, however, runs in direct opposition, making things worse. 

The concept has the potential to transform flying for passengers, particularly on the long haul routes that the Dreamliner is scheduled to operate. In the meantime, or if you’re not flying with Qantas, there are plenty of ways to minimise the symptoms, and reduce the longevity of jet lag. During the flight, they include adjusting to the new time zone on takeoff, avoiding too much alcohol and caffeine consumption, drinking plenty of water, and moving around the plane as much as you can without annoying other passengers. On arrival, you can adjust to your new time zone quickly by exposing yourself to daylight, or a bright light to help ‘reset’ your body clock, stay away from caffeinated drinks during the day, and avoid alcohol or coffee before heading to bed. Other suggestions people have recommended to me over the years include avoiding prescription medications to enforce sleep on arrival, skipping daytime naps, and using a white noise machine, which to blocks out disruptive noises while you try to sleep. Ultimately jet lag is very individual; when and how long a person suffers from it, and the symptoms they experience vary dramatically. Try a variety of methods such as those mentioned above and see what works for you; they may not eliminate jet lag entirely, or work perfectly every time, but anything to ensure feeling good on arrival, and during the first few days of your trip is worth the effort. Or wait until the Qantas Dreamliners begin service.


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