How to Beat Jetlag and Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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Sleep expert Célyne Bastien shares tips on getting the shut‑eye you need no matter where you go.

Whether you’re the type of person who can nod off anywhere, or one who requires a bedtime routine in order to catch any zzzs, getting enough consistent, good‑quality sleep away from home is a challenge for many travellers.

“Some people experience jet lag and sleep disturbance when they travel, but there are a number of things you can do to help you rest better when you’re away from home,” says Célyne Bastien, president of the Canadian Sleep Society and psychology professor at Laval University in Quebec City

Dr. Jim Chung sat down with Bastien to discuss how crossing time zones disrupts our internal clock, the importance of sleep routines and how to help kids stay well rested on a spring break family getaway.

February 23, 2022

“Research shows that the more time zones you cross, the more confused your system becomes.”

Dr. Chung How do time changes affect our natural circadian rhythm?

Célyne Bastien Your body functions on a schedule and is used to getting up at a certain time, eating at specific intervals and going to sleep at a certain hour. When you travel across time zones your body won’t have its usual day‑night cycle cues. When you’re supposed to be getting ready for bed, your body might feel like it’s only dinnertime, which can cause you to stay up too late, eat at odd hours and feel more tired than usual. Research also shows that the more time zones you cross, the more confused your system becomes, so a trip across the Atlantic, from Toronto to London, can be especially exhausting. 

Dr. C What are the key symptoms of jet lag, and what are the best ways to manage them?

CB Jet lag can cause a range of symptoms, including daytime sleepiness, trouble falling or staying asleep at night, irritability and gastrointestinal issues. To get your system on track, expose your body to natural light, stay awake during the day and eat at the correct times according to wherever you are in the world. Basically, do what the people around you are doing. If you land and it’s morning, try to have some breakfast. This will help to reset your body’s internal clock. 

Related: Is Jet Lag Worse for Eastern Conference Teams?

Dr. C What can we do to negate the “first‑night effect,” or the tendency to sleep poorly the first night in a new place?

CB When you check into a hotel room for a night, you’re missing the sleep cues that you rely on at home to prepare for bedtime. But we also disrupt our sleep routines further by eating later, sometimes in the room, or by indulging in more alcohol. Follow a sleep routine that is as similar as possible to what you do at home, even on the first night. This could include taking your usual bath, reading a book or wearing your favourite pajamas. On the other hand, people who have chronic insomnia tend to benefit from the change in sleep cues, experiencing a reversed first‑night effect, and they sleep better! 

“Kids are really sensitive to jet lag, travel fatigue and even the first‑night effect.” 

Related: What’s the Best Way to Deal With Jet Lag?

Dr. C Travel‑related sleep disturbances can feel even more extreme with kids. What is your advice on helping kids maintain good sleep while away from home?

CB Kids are really sensitive to jet lag, travel fatigue and even the first‑night effect. When you arrive at your destination, take a nap (no longer than an hour) to recharge and then find a playground so they can stretch their legs. Finally, be sure to put them to sleep at their usual bedtime, with their favourite toy from home.

Is There a Doctor on Board?

Do you have questions about travel health and wellness? Send your queries to: jim.chung@aircanadaenroute.com

A portrait of Dr. Jim Chung with an Air Canada pin on his suit jacket lapel

Dr. Jim Chung holds a master’s degree in aviation medicine and trained as a flight surgeon in the Canadian Armed Forces. He practised as an emergency‑medicine physician in Toronto prior to joining Air Canada as chief medical officer in 2009.