An exciting feeling typically surrounds any significant trip, whether it be for business, pleasure, or athletic competition. The act of traveling itself is not without the potential for trouble. Jet lag is a common problem for those who fly for long periods of time.
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Although jet lag is most commonly associated with flights between different countries, it can occur on any flight that crosses three or more time zones. Your internal body clock may become disoriented from the local day-night cycle as a result of jet lag’s disruptive effects on your sleep.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and feeling well while traveling is easier if you know how to avoid and overcome jet lag.
What Is Jet Lag?
When flying across three or more time zones, the body’s circadian rhythm is disturbed, causing the traveler to experience jet lag. Problems sleeping, feeling sleepy during the day, having trouble concentrating, having trouble concentrating, feeling generally bad, and having stomach problems are common symptoms.
The effects of jet lag typically fade after a week or so. In general, it gets worse the further east you travel or the more time zones you pass through.
While some people may struggle with jet lag, others may not. The intensity and duration of jet lag can be affected by the travel plan and the traveler themselves.
What’s the Best Way To Reduce or Resolve Jet Lag?
Overcoming jet lag requires resetting your internal clock to coincide with the local time of dawn and sunset. Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to lessen the impact of jet lag.
Realigning Your Circadian Rhythm
In order to beat jet lag, you must adjust your body’s 24-hour clock to match the 24-hour local time. However, the optimal strategy for doing so differs depending on details unique to each trip:
- Whether heading east or west (the likelihood of experiencing jet lag increases when departing from the Eastern Time Zone).
- Count of time zones traversed. When traveling across more than three time zones, you’re more likely to have jet lag.
- Time spent traveling, including layovers.
- Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) of Flight.
- Total time spent away (including subsequent flights).
- The typical pattern of your nightly sleep.
- Your prearranged activities and other plans for the duration of your trip.
For this reason, there is no foolproof strategy for overcoming jet lag. Instead, a regimen of light exposure and melatonin is often necessary to swiftly recover from jet lag. Both have significant effects on the circadian rhythm and can be used to reset the body’s timekeeping mechanism.
It’s all about timing when it comes to resetting your circadian clock. Actually, if you expose yourself to light or take melatonin at the wrong time of day, you might further disrupt your circadian cycle and make jet lag worse.
It’s possible to still feel the effects of jet lag even though you’ve taken every precaution. Although everyone responds differently to a sudden time change, doing everything you can to reset your circadian rhythm can help mitigate the effects of jet lag.
The most significant factor in determining one’s 24-hour body clock is exposure to light, especially natural light. Even on a gloomy day, the sun’s rays are still able to penetrate the atmosphere and are perceived by the brain as a crucial signal for setting the circadian rhythm.
Natural light at your location will help you adjust more quickly to local time, but it doesn’t mean you should go outside right away. It may be best to avoid light upon arrival, depending on how far you’ve traveled and what time of day you land, so that you can make the most of the light the next morning.
Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by exposure to artificial light, such as that emitted by electronic devices. It’s best, then, to avoid exposing yourself to any kind of artificial light at all during the hours you’re supposed to be sleeping.
Light therapy, also known as a lightbox, makes use of a bright lamp to simulate the effects of natural light on the body’s internal clock when this is not possible.
The body produces its own melatonin hormone. The generation of melatonin often begins in the evening, a few hours before bedtime. The sleep-inducing effects of melatonin and its role in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm are two of its primary roles.
The timing of melatonin production can be incorrect when your circadian clock is disturbed, as it is by jet lag. Several investigations have shown that melatonin supplements, if taken at the proper time, can reset your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin is a supplement that can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. Melatonin levels can be increased by taking certain prescription medicines.
Although melatonin is generally well tolerated, it has the potential to interact negatively with other drugs and may induce drowsiness or stomach upset in some users. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before taking melatonin, as is the case with any other drug or supplement.
Pre-Trip Adjustments to Your Sleep Schedule
Many frequent flyers find that avoiding jet lag altogether is the easiest approach to deal with it once they’ve arrived at their destination.
In the days coming up to the journey, you could try to adjust your circadian cycle so that you sleep more throughout the day. When you get at your location, you’ll have less of a time adjustment upon arrival.
The circadian rhythm can be regulated using a combination of a new sleep routine, carefully timed exposure to light, and melatonin supplementation. These shifts call for meticulous planning and may provide logistical hurdles for many vacationers. Athletes and business leaders, who place a premium on peak performance following travel, may find the extra work to be worthwhile.
Tools to Plan a Trip and Avoid Jet Lag
Planning to avoid jet lag can be stressful because of the many variables to consider. Depending on the specifics of your trip, you can use one of several available online tools or mobile apps to develop a personalized plan to combat jet lag.
If you want personalized recommendations for overcoming jet lag based on your vacation plans and health history, you can also talk to your doctor, a sleep specialist, or a travel clinic.
Minimizing Symptoms of Jet Lag
You won’t be completely free of jet lag until your body clock adjusts to the new time zone, but there are certain things you can do to make the transition easier. Many of these suggestions help lessen the effects of travel weariness, or the dehydration and exhaustion that can occur on long excursions.
- First things first: try to obtain a full night’s sleep the night before your flight.
- Please bring the following accessories: Items like a sleep mask, earplugs, and cozy pajamas can help you get some shut-eye in an unfamiliar setting.
- Try not to worry too much; stress can make jet lag symptoms worse by preventing you from getting enough rest.
- It’s important not to overbook yourself in those initial few days: Don’t overschedule your first few days at the new location; jet lag is to be expected. Allow for adequate rest and maintain slack time in the event you experience a temporary health setback.
- Avoid drinking to excess because it lowers the quality of your sleep. Accordingly, it’s wise to avoid or greatly reduce alcohol consumption, both during the journey and upon arrival.
- Caffeine can temporarily enhance alertness, but excessive use might have the opposite effect. Caffeine is a stimulant, and consuming too much of it might make it difficult to relax and sleep.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to avoid being dehydrated in the dry air of the airplane cabin.
- Healthy eating: jet lag and long flights can cause stomach issues, so try to stick to lighter meals consisting mostly of fruits and vegetables.
- Stand up and walk around the plane a few times to stretch your legs and prevent blood clots and muscle tightness.
- Keep your body and mind healthy by scheduling some exercise while you’re away. Despite mixed findings, it’s possible that working out at the right time of day can also help you get your body clock in sync.
Can Naps Help With Jet Lag?
It’s possible that a short nap will help you deal with the daytime sleepiness caused by jet lag, but you should still use caution. A nap that lasts too long or occurs too late in the day could further disrupt your nightly routine. Naps should last no more than 30 minutes, and you should take them at least eight hours before you intend to go to sleep.
Can Sleep Aids Help With Jet Lag?
All other sleep aids, both prescription and over-the-counter, fail to alleviate jet lag because they don’t reset your circadian clock the way melatonin does. However, if lack of sleep is a result of jet lag, a sleep aid may be useful.
Most sleeping medications have a profound impact, leaving you disoriented and sleepy for far longer than you might imagine, even after you awake. Taking sleep aids is associated with an increased chance of falling or being involved in an accident. It may be more difficult to identify a persistent case of jet lag if the individual regularly uses sleep aids.
Get your doctor’s approval before trying any new sleep aid. Based on your itinerary, they can go over the pros and cons of taking certain medications and give you guidance on how to do so safely.
What’s going on in my body when I have jet lag?
Throughout a 24-hour period, physiological parameters such as core body temperature, blood pressure, glucose, and hormone levels all fluctuate. That is controlled by your circadian rhythm, which is tied to the amount of light hitting your eyes. Depending on when and for how long you’re exposed to light and darkness, your body’s internal clock might speed up or slow down.
Most people’s daily sun exposure is quite consistent both in terms of total hours and peak hours. It fluctuates with the seasons, but the shifts are small enough that your body can easily adapt. However, the transition is startling when taking a flight across time zones. You can’t just switch your body over to the local time because your internal clock is still set to the sun’s cycles back at home. You’re exposed to light when your body expects darkness, and vice versa, throwing off your circadian rhythm.
You may find it hard to get to sleep on the road to the east. Furthermore, this mode of travel necessitates a longer period of adjustment time for your body. If you travel across more than one time zone, you should expect to experience jet lag for the same amount of days. Therefore, if you go three time zones to the east, you will experience jet lag for around three days.
It’s possible that you’ll get up earlier than usual if you’re headed west. However, your body won’t need as much time to readjust when you travel this way. A person will have jet lag for a period of time equal to two-thirds the number of time zones traveled through. If you travel three time zones to the west, you should expect to feel the effects of jet lag for around two days.
10 tips for getting over jet lag
The number of time zones crossed has been linked to the severity of jet lag. You might find yourself wide awake at 3 a.m., have difficulties falling asleep at 10 p.m., or feel extremely fatigued by 3 p.m.
However, there are a number of things that may be done to alleviate the effects of jet lag. This article contains some suggestions that could prove useful.
1. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Water, as opposed to alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, may aid in the recovery from jet lag.
In addition to preventing restful sleep, both alcohol and caffeine can make it difficult to go to sleep. During the hours before the time you plan to go to sleep in the new time zone, you may want to avoid both.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests avoiding alcoholic beverages and caffeine three to four hours prior to bedtime.
2. Start adjusting sleep before the trip
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends, if at all possible, making any necessary adjustments to your sleep schedule a few days or weeks before you leave on your trip. A person would need to adjust their sleep schedule by either staying up longer than usual (when traveling west) or getting to bed earlier (when traveling east) (when heading east).
One way to lessen the effects of jet lag is to gradually alter one’s sleep routine in the days leading up to a trip.
3. Increase exposure to sunlight
A person crossing time zones should maximize their time in the sun once they get at their location. As an example, you could go outside or open your window coverings.
But one should still take precautions before going out into the sun, such as using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.
4. Avoid screen time before bed
It may be more challenging to get to sleep after using a device with a backlight, such as a tablet, computer, TV, or phone.
The CDC suggests putting away your phone and other electronic devices at least 1.5 hours before bedtime in order to improve your sleep quality.
Doing so may also aid in the speedy recovery from jet lag, allowing the traveler to get to sleep at a normal hour in the new time zone.
5. Avoid long naps
A nap should last no more than two hours, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
Only in the early afternoon should they attempt this nap.
6. Try melatonin
Supplemental melatonin is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for those who are having trouble falling asleep due to adjusting to a time zone change. A substance called melatonin is produced by a gland in the brain, and it aids in relaxation of the mind and body before sleep.
However, it should be noted that melatonin supplements are not recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)Reliable Source. This is due to the fact that unlike pharmaceuticals, melatonin is not strictly regulated in the United States and some other nations.
Furthermore, melatonin’s long-term consequences are currently unknown.
7. Consider taking sleeping pills
If you are considering utilizing sleeping drugs, both the WHOTrusted Source and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend consulting a doctor first. In some cases, these can be used to fight jet lag.
The time to take a sleeping medication is after you’ve arrived at your final destination. The same goes for bringing them along for the flight, keeping them with them for any longer than necessary, or going against the recommendation of a doctor.
When using sleeping drugs, it’s important to take them exactly as prescribed.
8. Eat lighter meals or snacks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises avoiding heavy or spicy meals between 2–3 hours before bedtime.
If you’re hungry before bed, opt for something light that’s easy to digest and won’t keep you up too long.
9. Prepare a good sleep environment
It’s important to make your bedroom as conducive to sleep as possible. Examples of this are:
- Putting on a mask to keep out the light while you sleep.
- A dark room can be created by turning off all screens and lights.
- Maintaining a comfortable temperature in the room.
- Putting in earplugs to muffle ambient sounds.
10. Get some exercise
Exercising also aids in adjusting to a new time zone. Working out in the open air has additional benefits since it exposes the body to sunshine.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises against engaging in severe physical activity within 2 hours of bedtime.
What other parts of travel can affect my sleep?
You can have trouble sleeping in a major city if you’re used to the peace and quiet of the country or the suburbs. It would be wise to bring along some earplugs in case the environment is particularly noisy. Similarly, if you’re used to the bustle of the city but are taking a trip to a rural area, you may find it difficult to settle into a restful slumber. You can use a fan or a white noise app on your phone to help.
Anxiety is frequent among travelers because of the disruption to their normal routine. You should ask for two wake-up calls while staying in a hotel. Then you can rest easy knowing you won’t miss any. It will also assist you in rising at the appropriate time each morning.
A majority of people have trouble sleeping in temperatures over 75 degrees or below 65 degrees. Take along an extra blanket if you’ll need to spend time in a cold environment. Pack light, airy clothes if you’re traveling somewhere warm. These methods can be used in place of air conditioning.
Acclimatization at an altitude of 13,200 feet or above takes a few weeks. And if you have breathing issues, going above 6,000 feet can be challenging. Insufficient oxygen in the air impairs one’s ability to breathe, which in turn affects one’s ability to do daily tasks and get an adequate night’s rest. Ideally, you’d like to spend the night at a lower elevation than where you spend the day. Try to use a humidifier at night, sleep on your side, and drink plenty of water.