Idea

Unlearning jet lag

Michelle Ahern Bevans

Unlearn

un/ləːn

verb: To make an effort to forget your usual way of doing something so that you can learn a new and sometimes better way – Cambridge Dictionary

Throughout our lives we’re taught important lessons. We learn how to talk, to write, even how to behave. But not everyone has been taught how to unlearn. It’s not about ignoring what you already know, but rather being brave enough to question the accepted so we can write new rules. It’s about looking at things in the context of today, and tomorrow.

The University of Sydney believe that looking at real-world challenges from a new perspective might reveal a hidden path. It is with this philosophy that TEDxSydney is proud to bring you the opportunity to unlearn jet lag.

You’ve packed your bags and can feel the pre-holiday excitement bubbling through your every thought. For Australians, a lot of great international destinations require us to be on a plane for extended periods of time, possibly crossing multiple time zones and landing, only to spend the first few days of your holiday in a complete daze with jet lag.

It seems like this will always be the way for long haul travel, right? What if we could unlearn this ‘fact’ and see a new reality?

The Charles Perkins Centre, a multidisciplinary research centre at the University of Sydney, has formed a partnership with Qantas to reduce fatigue caused by long haul flights. This means world-class research is underway to re-learn solutions to challenges like efficiency in flight planning and staying healthy in the air, and when you land – which is good news for those of us with wanderlust.

A study of passengers travelling on long haul Qantas flights provides an insight into the ways travellers are trying to minimise feelings of jet lag. Initial findings from research with passengers revealed some of the key strategies people were using to mitigate jet lag, including 54% of people using ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones during the flight while 24% avoided alcohol and 38% increased alcohol to aid sleep.

The study also provides an insight into what passengers aren’t doing, with less than half of the travellers (47%) surveyed not making a conscious effort to venture out into the sunshine upon arrival – a demonstrated way to overcome jet lag.

“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% of passengers made the effort to do it.” Dr Yu Sun Bin, Research Fellow, Sleep Research Group, Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Charles Perkins Centre.

The University’s partnership with Qantas has resulted in the world-first deployment of the circadian-smart environment on long haul flights QF9 and QF10. The Charles Perkins Centre can determine the best levels of in-flight light, nutrition, exercise and temperature to help align passenger’s body clocks, facilitate sleep and reduce jet lag. The research is optimising the times when airplane lights are on, as well as when meals are served, to facilitate adaptation to the destination’s time zone. Passenger menus incorporate scientific knowledge to optimise hydration and gastrointestinal comfort, and aid sleep. 

Could jet lag soon be a thing of the past for travellers?  Imagine what could be possible if we all learn to unlearn.

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