Travel is back after more than a two-year hiatus, and people are traveling to far-away destinations now more than ever in an attempt to make up for lost time. But those long flights can really make an impact on your wellbeing during and after you take flight (hello jet lag!)
So we spoke with Sarah Dalmas, a certified personal trainer and fitness manager at Texas Health Fitness Center HEB, to get some quick tips on how to best prepare for a long-haul flight.
Adjust Your Circadian Rhythm
Unfortunately, jet lag just comes with the territory when it comes to long flights, especially if you’re jumping multiple time zones. However, there are a few things you can do before your flight to help lessen the effects as much as possible.
Spend the days before your flight adjusting your sleep patterns as much as realistically possible. While going to bed at 8 a.m. in order to adjust to Tokyo time may not be realistic for everyone, adjusting your bedtime or waking time as much as you reasonably can could help get your body clock more in line with the time zone it’s about to be in.
Booking your flight so that it arrives during the day, making the most of your layovers, and, most importantly, being well rested before you fly can also help. Even if your buddy swears by it, trust us when we say that staying awake for the 24 hours before your trip because you're sure it'll balance out once you arrive just doesn't work.
Need some help figuring out when to set your new bedtime or waking time? This time zone converter can help you make sense of it all. Just enter your current city and the city to which you’ll be traveling and drag the slider to get the real time for each place.
Take Advantage of Moving Around While at the Terminals
If there is an option to ride a moving walkway or an escalator — choose the more active option whenever you can, knowing that you'll be sitting for the next few hours, Dalmas suggests.
Although there are advantages to boarding the plane early, one advantage to waiting to board is that you're not stuck in the cramped seat for as long. Boarding generally takes about 30 minutes in total.
Set Yourself Up for Sleep
While sleeping on a plane, especially in economy, isn’t exactly easy, there are ways to set yourself up for success. Planes tend to get a bit chilly when at peak altitude, so make use of the light blanket many airlines provide or pack on in your carry-on if you prefer to have your own. The same goes for a small pillow. If you can choose your seat, opt for the window seat so you can rest against the wall of the plane for extra comfort. You may want to look into an ergonomic sleep pillow. They can be a bit pricey, but many offer the support and stability your neck needs while also giving you the best chance at catching some ZZZs.
Many planes do a good job of dimming the cabin for overnight flights, but if you find yourself flying during the day, or you worry about light coming from electronic devices, a good sleep mask can help give you the darkness you need to drift off to sleep. Forget that passengers are even nearby with a set of ear plugs as well but remember to only insert them after the pressure has equalized in the cabin and remove them before landing to protect your eardrum.
You may even want to mimic your usual nightly ritual, like washing your face and brushing your teeth to help get your mind in the right place. If you need a little extra nudge, taking a small dose of melatonin can help.
Pack Your Own Snacks
Most long-haul flights serve complimentary meals throughout the duration of your flight, regardless of what class your seat is in. You may even get the option to select your meal ahead of your flight. This can be helpful if you have specific dietary needs, such as requiring diabetes-friendly meals. However, while airlines try to be as accommodating as possible, it’s a good idea to be safe and pack some snacks just in case your meal doesn’t stack up to what you were expecting.
Likewise, opt for low-sodium, low-carb items to ensure you’re not adding to the water retention that often happens on long flights.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
That leads us to Dalma’s next suggestion: hydrate.
“Hydration is important to keep in mind when flying because airplane cabins have lower humidity levels. About 50% of the oxygen circulating is pulled from outside and the air contains much less moisture at high altitudes than we are used to,” she explains. “I recommend packing an empty water bottle to fill up before you board or request water with little to no ice from the flight attendant. I'm also confident that most flight attendants would be happy to accommodate a refill of water if asked.”’
Additionally, you may find that your skin and eyes are affected by the low levels of humidity. Having a small tube of moisturizer and eye drops can help you feel less dried out.
Sitting for long periods of time is one of the biggest contributors to deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition that happens when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, such as your legs. DVT is serious because blood clots can loosen and lodge in the lungs.
The best way to prevent DVT is to get up periodically and move around. While there’s no research that spells out the exact amount of time you need to spend moving around to cut your risk of DVT, a good general rule of thumb is to get up and move around a bit about every two hours.
“While this may seem a bit frustrating, if you’re hydrating enough, you’ll be needing to get up to go to the restroom within that timeframe anyway,” Dalmas adds. “And on those particularly long flights, getting up to move around and maybe stretch a bit might be a welcome distraction that feels good too.”
While a long flight may seem like a bit of a drag, there’s no better time to sink into relaxation mode and just do, well, nothing. After all, how often do you get to just do truly nothing? Use this time to catch up on that book you’ve been meaning to dig into for a while now, watch that movie you missed in theaters months ago, listen to that podcast everyone’s been telling you about, or just simply take some time for yourself.