Simple solution to jet lag?

A lack of jet lag awareness is putting long-haul travellers at risk of slipping into the ‘Zzz Zone’, of low mental performance just when they need their wits most. According to new research by British Airways, a simple equation could be the solution.

The research, the first of its kind to examine real passengers’ Previous research into jet lag has been conducted with military personnel, by NASA or in specialist chronobiology or sleep research laboratories where it has been easier to control conditions. The study reported here is the first step in collecting data from the ‘real world’. in-flight sleeping habits, is part of BA’s continuing commitment to wellbeing. It reveals that whilst people are very aware of jet lag, in many cases the tactics they employ have little effect, and some may be counter productive.

Air travel does not allow time for our biological clock to adjust to a new time zone. The main risk with jet lag is that passengers hit what British Airways’ Sleep Doctor Chris Idzikowski calls the ‘Zzz Zone’ or period of maximum sleepiness, and subsequently poorest performance, when it is least expected.This can be disastrous if it coincides with an important meeting or activity requiring strong mental focus such as a long car drive.

Dr Idzikowski, explains: “If you travel on business from London to Hong Kong, which is eight hours ahead of the UK, you will hit your maximum sleepiness between the hours of 11am and 1pm Hong Kong time. If you plan a business meeting around this time it is the equivalent of planning a meeting between 3am and 5am at home. A simple equation will enable you to work out when you are at risk of slipping into the ‘Zzz Zone’ and how best to avoid it:

Habitual wake up time e.g. 7am minus three hours, plus or minus the local time difference e.g. on a trip to San Francisco your Zzz Zone is 7am minus 3 hours (4am UK time) which is 8pm San Francisco time - one hour either side of this time is your mental and physical trough.


According to the research, around 81% of respondents’ sleep is either more, or much more, affected than usual by jet lag. In spite of this, the majority of passengers (67%) don’t know how to manage jet lag effectively. Only 11% of the sample adopt cues that are helpful - either the use of light exposure, food, fluid, exercise, or some combination of these four contributing factors, to try to combat the effects.Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê Ê

Dr Idzikowski, continues: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that the most common approach is changing your watch to the destination time when boarding a plane, but this offers little value unless you adjust the rest of your routine to the same time - e.g. eating at the ‘new’ dinner time, taking a nap if it’s the ‘new’ night time etc.

“The research reveals that many people believe jet lag is all in the mind. This is not the case. Our make up has evolved over the millennia to take account of the fact that we are a diurnal (light) species; people’s brains and bodies haven’t had to operate 24 hours a day so the physiology has adapted to optimise itself. The mind over matter approach to jet lag is as effective as a mind over matter approach towards combating the effects of excessive alcohol consumption - i.e. it doesn’t work.”

BA commercial director, Martin George, said: “The effects of jet lag are very real but can be minimised by taking the right course of action. This is the first piece of major research of its kind and we will be using the findings to inform our passengers so they can arrive at their destination in good shape.”

Research is continuing into how to speed up time zone adjustment. However, according to Dr Sleep time zone awareness is a key step in curing jet lag.