Jet lag is caused by a disruption of the body’s sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythms) due to rapid travel through several time zones. Our circadian rhythms control the release of hormones in our body which let us know when to eat, sleep, and wake up. This disruption in the body’s natural cycles can cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night, as well as daytime fatigue, disorientation, lack of coordination, and irritability. Because adjustment to the new time zone occurs gradually, symptoms of jet lag may last for several days.
The extent one will feel symptoms of jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed. Traveling more than five times zones at once seems to affect people more. The direction of the journey also has an impact; traveling in an eastward direction is shown to cause more severe jet lag than traveling westward. When we go east we shorten our day, moving further from our natural rhythm, whereas, traveling west extends our day and does not have as much of an impact on our natural cycle.
Jet lag is certainly a nuisance in anyone’s travel itinerary, but there are many things which can be done to minimize its effects:
Tips for Reducing the Symptoms of Jet Lag
- Try not to worry or become over-excited about your travel plans. Reduce stress before flying by making sure all your arrangements are in order.
- Get lots of exercise in the days before travel
- Ensure you get a good sleep the night before departure. Make sure you are not tired or hungover.
- Stay well-hydrated during your flight Avoid beverages which will make you more dehydrated (alcohol, coffee, and tea) and stick with drinking plenty of water and juices.
- Keep your blood circulating while on the plane; stretch in your seat and walk up and down the aisles when you can.
- Try to sleep on the plane at the time that corresponds to your desired bedtime in the new time zone. Use the appropriate props: earplugs, an eye mask, a neck rest, pillows, and the blankets provided to help make yourself more comfortable. Take your shoes off and wear comfortable clothing. If you can’t sleep, at least close your eyes and use the eye mask at this time to help your body adjust its production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
- Once you arrive at your destination, you can take a short nap (under 40 minutes) to help the body cope with jet lag. Keep the nap under 40 minutes or you may confuse your biological clock and makes the readjustment to the new time zone more difficult.
- Eat light meals at regular meal times in the new time zone to help your digestive system adjust to the change. You may want to try during your flight and eat at meal time when you land at your destination. Our eating cycles are affected just as much as our sleep cycles, and by resetting your meal pattern, you can help the body find it’s new rhythm.
- After arrival at your destination, help your body adjust by getting outside and exposing yourself to daylight. This will inhibit your body from producing melatonin during the day. Do not stay indoors in dim lighting, as it will make your adjustment more difficult.
- Take melatonin tablets to help yourself get to sleep at night. Your body will take a number of days to adjust from producing melatonin at your old bedtime to your new bedtime. Help yourself get a full nights rest and reduce your symptoms of jet lag by supplementing with melatonin. For guidelines on using melatonin correctly, please read: Using Melatonin to Eliminate Jet Lag.