Jet lag is described as the irritating (and sometimes debilitating) symptoms that occur with jet setting across time zones. According to WebMd, most people experience jet lag when they travel quickly across 2 or more time zones adding that the further you travel the worse the symptoms and the longer the duration the symptoms of jet lag can be. For many people who travel internationally as part of their career, jet lag is the unfortunate side effect that long term can lead to serious health problems.
Medically speaking, Jet lag is actually considered a temporary sleep disorder. The problem is that for people who are jet setting across long distances for an 10 day vacation, half of that time can be spent trying to recover from the sluggishness and fatigue associated with jet lags. The worst symptoms of jet lag are felt when travelers travel from west to east which means that they are ‘losing time.’
Jet lag occurs because the body naturally has what is called a Circadian Rhythm. This Circadian rhythm is our internal biological clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. There are many factors that contribute to our circadian rhythm, such as light exposure, meal times, social engagement, and regular activities. So when you travel across time zones losing hours, or being thrown off from your normal routine, the body has to readjust. Making matters worse is that according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the cabin pressure in air planes causes a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood which can be not just be uncomfortable, but cause dehydration as well. (This is just one of many reasons people get sick after flying on airplanes)
Dealing with jet lag usually means dealing with the following symptoms.
- Disturbed sleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach/digestive problems
- Irritability and increased anxiety. (Likely due to lack of restful sleep)
SO what can you do about jet lag? After all, you didn’t spend $4,000 to visit Rome for ten days only to feel like a walking zombie for most of your visit? And if you are a frequent flyer then you don’t want to be constantly suffering from the ill effects of jet lag in your day to day to life, right? The following list will give you some helpful hints to help ward off and lessen the symptoms associated with jet lag.
Tips for Dealing with Jet Lag
- Practice. If you know you are going to a different time zone ahead of time, then spend some time at home trying to simulate your new schedule. You might want to go to bed earlier and wake earlier for a week or two weeks before your trip. In other words, if you alter your schedule slightly for a while leading up to your trip, the loss of time won’t be such a blow to your circadian rhythm.
- When in Rome, Eat WHEN the Romans Do. The stomach can be a major player when it comes to jet lag from gas and indigestion to general upset. An easy way to help lessen this aspect of jet lag is to try and slowly eat your meals on a different schedule than usual. Look at the time difference of the place you are going, and adjust your major meals, when possible around those times. This way, your stomach will be used to eating on a completely different schedule.
- Hydrate, Hydrate Hydrate. Prior to flying, you should be well hydrated. This is especially true when going on long flights or trips. Experts say you should drink WATER before, during and after your flight to help counteract the feelings of dehydrate.
- Take Vitamins. This can boost your immune system and make you less susceptible to the illnesses floating around in pressurized, circulating airplanes.
- Move Around. If you are flying long distances, try to move around as much as possible during the flight.
- Sleep or Stay Awake. If you are set to arrive at your destination at 10pm, which is usually your bedtime then try and force yourself to stay awake on the plan. If you are arriving in the morning, then try and force yourself to sleep. This way, your sleep needs will at least be on par with the time zone you are traveling to.
- Melatonin. Some physicians recommend that you take melatonin supplement 3 hours before you plan to go to sleep when you reach your new destination to help your body adjust to the altered sleep schedule.
- Light therapy. Your circadian rhythm is greatly influenced by light therapy. Before you leave, you can try to simulate the light therapy of your destination at home. And once you arrive, you should try to get outdoors during morning light to help shift the Circadian Rhythm.
- Sleep Aids. There are many side effects to sleep aids, and some physicians do not recommend that you take them. However, consult with your physician and see if a light, prescribed sleep aid can help you to shift your sleeping patterns.
- Get plenty of Exercise. Traveling, staying in hotels, and being cooped up at conferences can limit your exercise, making the feelings of jet lag worse. Try to stay on an exercise regime when you are away, and avoid exercising right before bedtime which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
The good news is that for most of us, Jet Lag is a temporary condition. When you arrive back home, your body will likely naturally transition back to its regular Circadian Rhythm, much more quickly than it took you to adjust to your destination’s time zone.