Jetlag? No thank you

Tired faces. Midday naps. Complaining.

Jetlag has always been something I have only heard about, but never experienced myself. For years of long-haul travel I kept on wondering what it feels like. I have gone to Australia and slept like a baby at the appropriate times. I went to Mexico and nothing happened – I proudly boasted to the jet-lag sufferers. But everything changed when I went to China, where my doubts about jetlag were finally dispelled, giving way to a horrible confusion and days of tears at my body’s failure to rest.

Traveling to Singapore, I was scared that this recent horror may repeat itself. If I found the experience so abhorrent while on holidays, how awful would it be if it happened on a business trip? I was in Singapore for less than 72 hours, out of which I had a full day of team facilitation ahead of me. I really couldn’t afford a jetlag. I decided to do everything in my power to avoid it.

1.Break the journey

I started working on my “no-jetlag” masterplan early. When booking tickets to Singapore, I decided to go through Dubai to break the trip. As someone who is scared of flying and verges on claustrophobia, not taking a direct, 13-hour flight was a no brainer. I also knew it would lower the cost of trip for my client, as the indirect flights are often cheaper than uninterrupted ones. With only a short stop-over in the UAE, the overall time of my journey increased by less than two hours in total, and I traveled more relaxed. By having a break, I was allowing my body to readjust half-way through, thus hoping to minimise the impact of the time change.

2. Arrive in the morning 

Looking back at my previous, jetlag-less trips, I noted that what they had in common was that most of the time I would travel at night and arrive at my destination before dusk. Reading about ways to prevent jetlag, I found the same advice. I therefore tried to schedule my travel in a way that would allow me to arrive early on Thursday, ahead of my Friday client work.

Exhaustion brought on by a long flight and my failed attempts to sleep on the uncomfortable seats of the economy class, gave way to the wanderlust as soon as I left the Changi airport. It was a Thursday morning and my taxi was swiflty advancing through the spacious lanes of East Coast Road. On one hand, I was in a modern, well-functioning metropoly. On the other, the humidity and heat, silvering thick leaves of stout palm trees adorning the road and the lush, tropical greenery reminded me I was in a different world.

I remember the sweet agitation of traveler’s excitement taking over. I was in Singapore for work, I was on a business trip, and yet to my left I was passing one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.  Beyond the fresh, grassy grounds of the East Coast Park, from behind a row of tall, slender palm trees swaying their crowns gently to the morning breeze, a turquise water of the Singapore Strait emerged magesticaly. On the horizon, a hazy line of cargo  ships, stationed steadily on the calm blue surface- like the perpetual element of the Singapore’s landscape, reminding me of the city’s cosmopolitan past. There’s a very special kind of magic in port towns. The thrill of possibilities, the openness to novelty, the curiosity wrapped in the smell of clover and cinnamon. I couldn’t wait to go and explore.

3. Exercise

As soon as I checked into the Amara hotel on Malay-sounding Tg Pagar Road, I exchanged the warn travel clothes for a swimming suit and run to the swimming pool.

IMG_1263 The cold water provided a nice refreshment to the syrupy heat that enveloped me as soon as I stepped out onto the hotel terrace. It was only 10 am, so I decided to exercise before I ventured to explore the island. In every article I read, physical activity was one of the key recommendations to avoid jetlag. I have been stending up and moving regularly throughout my flights, to encourage the circulation, finding out that the end of the plane is spacious enough for doing lounges and sit ups. “Who cares what people think? They’re not going to be there in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep” I reminded myself whenever self-consciousness hit. With the on-flight exercise and the morning swim, I could feel my body recoving from the travel quicker than I have ever experienced. I was ready to hit the ground running.

4. Eat like a local 

Although my stomach was letting me know about its hunger from the moment the flight attendants started to give out breakfast trays, I decided to fast for a bit to allow my body to adjust to the local time at my destination. I remembered reading somewhere that jetlag is caused by slowed down metabolism and that abstaining from food on board of the aircraft as much as possible can be beneficial to the speed of your body’s adjustment to time change. As the dry breadroll served by the crew members was not particularly appealing, I decided to skip it and try something local upon landing.

While waiting for my hotel room to be ready, I ordered Kaya toast at a local breakfast joint. This Singaporean morning staple turned out to be a deliciously sweet toast filled with warm coconut jam. It was served with soft boiled eggs for dipping the toast in, and came with a milky kopi, Singapore’s traditional coffee brewed in a long, sock-like cotton strainer and poured multiple times between metal pots resembling watering cans.

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Throughout the day I followed the eating routine of the locals, ordering solely Asian food. Instead of listening to my hunger, I simply ate when everyone else seemed to be eating, thus giving my body a chance to adjust to the new timezone. I stuck, however, only to safe options I knew my stomach could handle, not to burden my digestive system unnecessarily.

5. Get tired 

After the traditional breakfast, I was ready to explore the city.  Contrary to the articles I read regarding taking it slow upon arrival, I knew that the only way for me to get some sleep at night was to tire myself out during the day. Instead of taking one of Singapore’s affordable taxis, I decided to walk everywhere (thus fitting even more exercise into the day).

I spent the first hour of my sightseeing in the breathtaking Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, with its beautifuly decorated halls and numerous statues extending across a number of floors.

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Following the visit to the Temple’s roof garden, I took a stroll through the colourful streets of Chinatown, where I stopped for lunch consisting of delicious vegetable dumplings. With my stomach full, I then carried on to the Sri Mariamman Temple, past which I turned into the busy Cross Street, walking all the way down Raffles Quay until I reached the restaurants and bars of the bay front and the iconic statue of Merlion. On the way back I passed the historic Fullterton hotel and headed past Marina Boulevard to the futuristic greenery of Gardens by the Bay. As the sun was setting down, I headed to the nearby tube station and took the train back to Chinatown.

6. Stay hydrated 

As I kept on walking in Singapore’s everlasting heat, I made sure to stay hydrated throughout the day. I kept on sipping on the numerous bottles of water as well as the fresh coconuts which proved to be a great defense against dehydration.

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I had also ensured I kept on drinking plenty of water and tomato juice during the flight, to keep my body’s cells regularly hydrated.

7. Say no to coffee

Despite the tiredness I began to feel in the afternoon, I tried to stay away from caffeine. Aside from only a few sips of the morning kopi, I managed to resist the temptation of coffee throughout the day and replaced my afternoon tea with an herbal brew in Tea Chapter.

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The tea house hidden behind the road works taking place on Neil Road welcomed me with its airconditioned coolness and silence. I orderded a mixture of herbs and enjoyed the natural, soothing warmth of the drink in a peaceful atomosphere. Perfect way to start unwinding after a long day.

8. Hide your watch

Before I could head for the bed however, I still had a few hours of work to complete. Back in Europe the day was just starting, so I had a number of emails waiting for me on top of the presentation for the following day. I tried, however, to answer only the most urgent messages and to do that from my phone rather than laptop –  to avoid seeing what time it was back in UK. I came to a conclusion that something that kept me from having jetlags in the past was the fact that I don’t wear a watch and I would avoid looking at time throughout the flight. This way, as I switched on my mobile phone, I would see only the local time and have only a rough idea how early or late it was back home. I decided to test out this hypothesis and avoid any sources of information regarding the time in London and think it worked quite well, as by the time Singapore was immersed in the embrace of the evening, I felt my body getting ready to sleep.

9. Follow the sleep routine 

As someone who has suffered insomnia for many years, I try to have a stable sleeping routine to prepare myself for bed. While traveling, it may be tempting to skip some of the things we tend to do before going to sleep at home, but I decided to try to recreate my bedtime routine as much as possible. I also allowed some extra time for reading in bed and falling  sleep than I usually do, to avoid the frustration I knew would come if I wasn’t able to doze off before midnight.

10. Take the right supplements 

To increase my chances at getting a good night sleep, I drank camomile and lemon balm tea, which is known for aiding relaxation and slumber. I put soft lights in the room, played gentle music, and enjoyed the hot drink in bed while reading an interesting novel. Out of precaution, I had packed some safe herbal sleeping pills if I had trouble sleeping, but it turned out not to be needed.

With all the excitement and fatigue of the day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Next day I woke up rested and ready for work, no signs of jetlag in sight.

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I hope next time you travel,you manage to avoid it too! Sleep tight!

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