Jet lag is a very real physical condition and is classified as such with other sleep disorders. It is not a form of insomnia, but rather a temporary disruption in your body’s natural sleep cycle. Read below for some helpful tips and insights on how to avoid it during your upcoming vacation travel.
Why do we feel jet lag?
Our bodies run on a biological clock that is usually on a 24-hour cycle. This is our “circadian rhythm”. Flying across more than two time zones is going to disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms (your regular sleep and wake cycle).
For example, if your eyes see dawn many hours earlier than usual, your hypothalamus clock is going to trigger activities for which the rest of your body is not ready (such as turning off melatonin production and leaving you sleep-deprived). Now your clock must adjust to a schedule that is hours ahead of your old one – or hours behind. The hypothalamus can’t “stop on a dime”, however, and instantly make the cycle changes, thus resulting in jet lag which lasts until the changes kick in after several days.
Flying across more than two time zones is going to disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms (your regular sleep and wake cycle).
When does jet lag occur?
The effects of jet lag are generally greater if you are traveling from west to east than from east to west. The reason for this is that it is harder for the body to advance its clock than it is to delay it. It isn’t linked to the flight’s length but to the number of time-zones through which you travel. It usually doesn’t occur unless you travel through three or more zones. It never occurs on north to south, or south to north, flights regardless of their length.
The effects of jet lag are generally greater if you are traveling from west to east than from east to west.
Travelers headed east generally find the number of days they need to recover are roughly two thirds of the number of time zones they crossed. Traveling from New York to Paris on a six hour flight will take approximately four days recovery time. However, travelers flying west find their recovery days are only half the number of days as the number of time zoned they cross. Traveling from New York to San Francisco on a six hour flight only requires three days recovery time.
What are the effects of jet lag in our body?
When you arrive, and for the next few days, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
• Inability to go to sleep
• Inability to stay asleep
• Sleepiness in the daytime
• Changes in bowel movements
• Lack of appetite
• Lack of mental alertness
As your body adjusts to its new time schedule, the symptoms disappear. The speed of adjustment is different for each person. Your age, health, physical condition and how often you fly don’t seem to affect who gets jet lag. It can happen to anyone.
10 things to do to fight jet lag
1. Choose a flight that arrives in the early evening. When you arrive, stay up until your usual bedtime then go to sleep. If you must sleep in the daytime, take only a two hour nap early in the afternoon.
2. Let your body anticipate the time change by getting up and going to bed earlier for several days before your trip. (If traveling west, get up and go to bed later).
3. Exercise, eat well and get lots of rest before you travel.
4. Wear comfortable, non-binding shoes and clothes on the plane.
5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine on the flight.
6. Drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated. The air on planes is very dry.
7. During the flight, get up and move around as much as possible. This reduces the risk of developing blood clots in your legs and increases mental alertness which can ease symptoms of jet lag.
8. If it is nighttime where you are headed, sleep on your flight. Begin to follow the time schedule of your destination. Use headphones and eye shades if you need them. (If it is daytime there, stay awake).
9. Set your watch to your destination’s time as soon as you board your flight.
10. When you arrive at your destination, begin to follow the new schedule as soon as possible. If it is five o’clock there, have supper at your usual time and stay up until your regular bedtime if at all possible. Get up on time in the morning, even if you require a short nap the next afternoon.
What about melatonin?
Scientifically, light is the strongest stimulus you have for re-aligning your wake-sleep circadian rhythm cycle. You can change it using sunlight. Careful exposure to light as well as avoidance of light at certain times can speed up your adjustment to your new time zone. If you traveled east, avoid sunlight in the morning but get plenty in the afternoon. For example: take in the museums, art galleries, historic homes and such in the mornings and wear sunglasses when outdoors. Spend the afternoons in the parks, gardens and outdoor venues. If you flew west, do the opposite. Get out in the morning light and stay inside in the afternoon. Business travelers who must spend all day indoors away from natural light should consider bringing along a bright lamp that simulates sunlight and use it for a certain amount of time each day.
Careful exposure to light as well as avoidance of light at certain times can speed up your adjustment to your new time zone. If you traveled east, avoid sunlight in the morning but get plenty in the afternoon.
Since gaps in melatonin production in the brain contributes to jet lag, taking Melatonin in an over-the-counter supplement is one way to manage sleep problems and “reset” your sleep cycle. Scientific studies indicate that only 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams doses are needed. It works best for travelers crossing five or more time zones. Be sure it is legal in your destination country. For the best effects with Melatonin usage:
• Take it after dark on your travel day.
• Also for a few days after you arrive at your
• Also for a few days before you fly (if you are
Its long-term side effects are completely unknown, so check with your doctor to see if it is safe for you.
Traveling the world to visit new places should be an adventure. Be proactive about preparing for your journey and you can prevent or reduce the effects of jet lag when you arrive.