Jet Setting, travel blogs, spending a year abroad, seeing the sights, being well travelled. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy travelling? From travel blogs to shows, YouTube channels and magazines detailing the magic of going to some exotic, unknown locale are everywhere. But travel comes with some ‘in flight baggage’ and by that, I mean jet lag. It’s just a fact of life that comes with fast, long distance travel, as inherent as those little bags of pretzels and SkyMall. Even though we must experience at least some effects of moving our circadian rhythm to a different time zone, you don’t have to let it get the best of you. Today I’m going to talk to you about what jet lag is and how to minimize its impact on your vacay, business trip, friend venture or honeymoon.
What is jet lag? The simple answer is when your usual sleep wake rhythm must function in a time zone that is hours off from what it has been used to because of a mismatch between what time your body thinks it is and the external environment. This throws somewhat of a wrench in your internal clock. The adverse effects of this mismatch are usually mild, like sleepiness during the day, listlessness, headaches, mild disorientation and confusion and a general feeling of being out of sorts. In more intense cases, however it can cause symptoms like sleep deprivation. These include fatigue, poor performance and alertness, memory lapses, moodiness, and indigestion and gastrointestinal problems. Jet lag is sometimes recognized as an actual sleep disorder called jet lag syndrome for those who travel often, although it mostly resolves itself in a week or so.
In most cases, what determines your ability to adjust well to different time zones is your circadian rhythm, which vary from person to person between a23.5 and 24.5-hour cycle. The 3 out of 4 people with a longer than 24-hour rhythm find it easier to adjust to travelling west which makes the day longer. The other 1 of 4 people who have a shorter circadian rhythm adjust better to travelling east as this shortens the day. Depending on how much of a difference there is in times, it usually takes about one day per hour for your body to adjust its cycle of sleeping versus waking. Certain internal rhythms such as your heart, lungs and kidneys can take longer to adjust, up to several weeks as in the case of the liver.
Here are some things you can do to minimize these effects. One major problem is dehydration. Air travelers traditionally do not hydrate enough and tend to instead consume diuretics like alcohol and coffee. This contributes to how you feel when you get to where you’re going. If you can, avoid these and opt instead, for bottled water and hydrate your body for the journey ahead. Inactivity also makes the symptoms worse, sitting in an often cramped area with your seatbelts securely fastened. When allowed, move your body a bit by walking around or stretching from your seat given the space allowed.
Studies also show that fasting for at least 12 hours before and during a flight and then eating meals at local times at your destination can fast forward the adjustment process. Next, when you arrive, try to expose yourself early in the morning to extended outdoor sunshine. At your normal adjusted bed time, you can take some over the counter melatonin or chamomile and herbal sleep tea. Follow our other articles for more tips on making getting to sleep at the new time easier. Finally, taking something you are familiar with and associate with sleep, such as your pillow from home (try our Hotel Concierge Pillow), can also make it much easier to get to sleep soundly when the clock says it’s time.
Now that you’re more familiar with jet lag, the next time you travel, you won’t have to be concerned with jet lag messing with your travels. Follow these tips and prepare ahead of time, and soon, you’ll feel right at home sleeping on your travels.