Jet lag is a phenomenon that impacts even the most experienced of travelers. For new and seasoned travelers alike, the effects of jet lag may be quite disruptive. While it’s nearly impossible to entirely prevent this traveling ailment, there are various tips and tricks people can use to alleviate the symptoms of jet lag.
What is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder caused when travelers cross 3 or more of the world’s 24 time zones in a short period, such as when in flight. Travel can “throw off” a human’s circadian rhythm, which is an internal body clock that helps people naturally fall asleep and wake up. Various elements contribute to the circadian rhythm, including daylight, moonlight, social engagements, eating, drinking, and other external activities. When a person crosses time zones, these activities occur at different times than what the body is accustomed to, meaning the internal rhythm is thrown out of balance and must be reset. The human body is remarkable and can naturally reset its circadian rhythm, but unfortunately, this usually takes up to one full day per crossed time zone. This can be incredibly difficult for people traveling across the globe on business, as it can take over an entire week to fully reset the body’s internal clock. However, it is speculated that most people are able to adequately function in a time zone within just a few days of arriving. Even so, jet lag symptoms are still a nuisance, but when prepared for correctly, their tenure may be shortened.
West is the Best; East is a Beast
Jet lag is usually a result of a flight’s direction, rather than the amount of time a person spends in flight.
Typically, travelers flying from west to east are subjected to the worst cases of jet lag, as they "lose" time for each time zone that is crossed; this propels eating schedules, sleep, and even bathroom habits ahead many hours.
On the other hand, people flying from east to west experience fewer jet lag symptoms because they "gain" time for each time zone crossed. These travelers will still experience jet lag, but will have an easier time overcoming the symptoms and adjusting to the new time.
Those flying north or south in the same time zone are exposed to the least amount of jet lag.
Fighting Jet Lag
Travelers can prepare for jet lag before, during, and after a flight. While there are no “jet lag cures,” or ways to entirely prevent jet lag, keeping a few tips, tricks, and best practices in mind when traveling can greatly lessen the chances of experiencing this sleeping disorder's most severe symptoms.
Before the flight:
- Days, or even weeks, before a trip, travelers can start preparing for life in a new time zone. By altering one’s schedule to match the one they’ll live in their destination, a traveler can greatly reduce the symptoms of jet lag they’ll experience. Simple preventative actions, such as eating meals at an earlier or later time (according to the new time zone) and changing bed times can have an immense impact on the body upon arrival. With help from the Jet Lag Rooster or the Jet Lag Calculator, free online programs that help people plan the time before and after a flight, travelers will be able to better adapt to their new time zone.
During the flight:
- Travelers should avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, as these drinks can cause dehydration and interfere with natural sleeping schedules, especially when paired with high levels of elevation. Instead, flyers should drink water to maintain hydration.
- If it’s day time at the destination, travelers should do everything possible to stay awake while flying. If it’s nighttime in the destination, then travelers should try to sleep while in flight.
- Once boarded on the plane, travelers should set their watch to the local time; this helps the brain align itself with the time of its destination.
After the flight:
- Proper light exposure helps shift the body’s circadian rhythm and is one of the most beneficial methods to combat jet lag. When traveling east, exposure to the sun in the morning is paramount. When traveling west, exposing the body to light later in the day can greatly improve adjustments to the new time zone.
- Just like in preparation before the flight, diet remains an important player in the fight against jet lag. Eating meals according to the local time is critical, even if not faced with immediate hunger. To stay alert, meals with high amounts of protein are beneficial. And before bedtime, eating meals with plenty of carbohydrates will help prepare the body for sleep.
- If possible, travelers should attempt to get at least four hours of sleep during the local night. Doing so helps the body begin to operate on a new circadian rhythm.
- Recover lost sleep when possible. Taking short naps to obtain the same amount of sleep a person would normally have in a 24 hour period can help fight off jet lag.
Following these tips and tricks will have any traveler feeling refreshed in a new land. If you have other jet lag hacks, let us know what they are in the comments below!
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