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10 Feb

Jet lag is worse than it should be because travellers ignore ways to beat the condition.

Jet Lag can be managed but travellers often avoid methods proven to remedy the condition, according to research by Qantas.

Jet Lag is made worse when travellers drink too much alcohol during their flights. Jet lag occurs when the human body clock – which determines when the body should be asleep or awake – is stuck in a different time zone to where it is physically.

The further someone travels across time zones the worse the symptoms, which vary from fatigue, insomnia and trouble focusing through to mood swings and constipation or diarrhoea.

Researchers at Qantas and the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre surveyed 500 passengers on international flight longer than nine hours and found that while most people made some effort to reduce the effects of jet lag, they were avoiding the most effective strategies.

“We know that going outdoors for sunlight at the destination is one of the most important strategies for syncing the body clock, but only 47 per cent of passengers made the effort to do it,” said Yu Sun Bin, a sleep specialist at the Charles Perkins Centre.

About a third of passengers said they drank alcohol on board to help them get to sleep, but Dr Bin said passengers had a heightened risk of jet lag if they had more than a few glasses.

“It might make us fall asleep faster but beyond a certain point, it also disrupts the quality of sleep and causes dehydration,” Dr Bin said.

Pilots and aircrew can also suffer the effects of jet lag during new long-haul flights that could soon last nearly an entire day.

Qantas is planning to launch flights from New York or London to Sydney and Melbourne in 2022 that, at around 20 hours, will become the world’s longest flights.

If it goes ahead with these so-called “Project Sunrise” flights, the airline will need to convince Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority it is safe for pilots to spend that long in the air.

For that, Monash University researchers will also be on Friday’s test flight to track pilots’ melatonin and alertness levels, and Qantas has also been studying pilot alertness on its 17-hour Perth to London non stop service, which launched 18 months ago.

However the union representing Qantas’ international pilots has urged “significant caution” if the airline does goes ahead with commercial “Sunrise” flights, and has questioned whether there will be enough data by then to fully understand the fatigue risks for pilots.

Qantas airline will operate two more test flights – one from London and another from New York – by the end of the year.

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