Whether you travel a lot or not, you surely heard about the “jet lag” – the sleeping disorder that occurs when people change time zones. But who does this sleeping disruption happen to most likely? Is it really that common?
In this article, we will describe and explain what jet lag is, what causes it, and we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions related to this topic. By the end of the article, you’ll discover what you can do in order to avoid and prevent jet lag even when all odds are against you.
If you’re preparing yourself for an important trip and you feel that experiencing jet lag would make things much more difficult for you, then this article is the right one for you. Read on and minimize the chances that jet lag happens on your next trip!
What is Jet Lag?
In order to understand what Jet Lag is and what is causing it, we have to explain what circadian rhythm is first. The circadian rhythm or “the body clock” is an internal biological clock that regulates our wakefulness and periods of sleep. It controls all biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes that occur within our bodies.
So, basically daily activities such as sleeping, waking up, eating, and body temperature regulation, as well as hormone regulation, are all regulated by our circadian rhythm.
Our body knows when to sleep and when to wake up thanks to suprachiasmatic nucleus cells located in the hypothalamus. These cells tell our bodies if there’s daylight or dark. Based on the amount or the lack of sunlight, your circadian rhythm will adjust in a way that you feel sleepy at night, and that you wake up after the sun goes up.
What does jet lag have to do with it?
Jet Lag is a disruption of circadian rhythm due to time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis. It usually occurs when traveling by plane and changing multiple time zones in a short period of time because our circadian rhythms cannot adjust to the new cycles of daylight and dark so fast.
This is why jet lag is defined as a circadian rhythm disorder.
But Jet lag doesn’t occur only because of traveling. It can happen also to night shift workers that have their circadian rhythms confused because the daylight and darkness periods are inverted to wakefulness and sleeping periods of the day. The body clock becomes disrupted and the symptoms of jet lag are likelier to arise.
How Do You Recognize Jet Lag?
You just finished your long flight, and are now trying to fall asleep, but it looks like your brain won’t listen. All that twisting and turning didn’t really help you to get some sleep, and next thing you know you can’t fall asleep and you had your first sleepless nights.
You’re having an important meeting in the morning, but your body is just so tired that you cannot concentrate on what you’re doing and, as if it wasn’t enough, you seem to be easily irritated by things you normally wouldn’t react to.
These are just some of the symptoms you can experience when having jet lag. However, let’s list out all of them before telling you how to make sure you don’t experience it the next time you travel.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Jet lag only occurs after changing 2 or more time zones while traveling westwards or eastwards, and never while traveling southwards or northwards. However, based on where you travel, you might have different symptoms.
Logically, the more time zones one changes, the likelier and more severe will these symptoms be.
- Disturbed Sleep
- Daytime Fatigue
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Trouble Functioning
- Mild Depression
- Loss of Appetite
When you travel eastward, you might have troubles with falling asleep.
On the other hand, while travelling westward, you might experience early awakenings and have a disrupted sleep.
Another factor that will probably make your jet lag worse is your age. The older you are, the longer it will take for your circadian rhythm to adjust. Children may experience milder symptoms, but they will, however, recover much faster and get back into sync more easily.
How To Prevent Jet Lag?
After clearly understanding what makes jet lag kick in when you travel, it will be much easier to explain how jet lag should be prevented.
You probably realize that there is no magical potion that will help you avoid those cranky jet lag symptoms. In fact, the only proper way of preventing jet lag is by making clever adjustments to your routines before you go on your more-than-2-different-time-zones flight.
Doing these things in advance will probably make you feel more rested after your next trip, or it will at least minimize the severity of jet lag symptoms.
Before flight: 1. Choose Tickets Wisely
When trying to travel without having jet lag, it might be wise to buy your tickets wisely.
Flying tires us up, especially when it lasts for several hours, so you can take advantage of this and book a flight whose arrival time is around early evening. This way, you might go to bed feeling tired and you may fall asleep already around 10 p.m.
Before flight: 2. Adjust Your Sleeping/Waking Time
If you’re traveling eastward, you’re likely going to experiences troubles with falling asleep. That’s why you should try to adjust your body before you travel. So, in this case, aim to be in bed earlier than usual for at least 3 days before your departure.
If you’re traveling westward, do the opposite. So, try going to bed later in order not to put your circadian rhythm out of sync.
Before flight: 3. Exercise Regularly
It is widely known that people that exercise on a daily basis have a much better sleep quality.
So, in this case too, if you want to avoid feeling jetlagged after your flights, exercise is an awesome way to ensure this all doesn’t affect you. (or at least affects you really minimally)
Before flight: 4. Don’t Eat Heavy At Night
Since our circadian rhythms do not depend only on light and darkness but on our nutritious habits and exercise levels, it is no wonder why it is important to pay attention to what we eat.
It is important not to eat too much for dinner and not to have too heavy meals before going to bed. Get your organism used to eat lightly for dinner.
Before flight: 5. Respect Your Own Meal Frequency
You should also pay attention to WHEN you generally eat. The timing of our daily meals influences how our hormones work. Therefore, try maintaining a certain meal schedule that will work for you every day.
The consistency in having meals in the right time is crucial for having a healthy sleep, therefore, it will also help you in preventing jet lag too.
Before flight: 6. Get Bright Light In The Morning
In order for your brain to adapt more easily to a new time zone, you should stimulate your SOPSB cells and let them know that is time to wake up by opening the curtains and getting bright light in the morning.
The daylight triggers your hypothalamus which will eventually lead to waking up. Do this for a couple of days before departure, and repeat the same when you arrive at your new destination.
Check out this useful video on how to beat jet lag quickly:
During the flight: 7. Use An Eye Mask And Ear Plugs
A wise thing to do if you’re traveling to a time zone where it’s nighttime is to sleep during your flight. If you can’t do that naturally, get some ear plugs and eye masks that will block out all distractions.
During the flight: 8. Stretch Or Do Exercises
Sometimes muscles can get sore from sitting too much, causing uncomfortable pains afterward. In order to avoid having pain in your legs or back when you finally arrive, try staying active during the flight.
You can do several exercises, stretch or simply walk on the aisle.
During the flight: 9. Drink A Lot Of Water
The more hydrated you are, the less likely it is you will have troubles with sleeping (or any other health related issue).
Next time you travel, make sure you have plenty of water with you and you will notice a big difference in your sleeping quality.
During the flight: 10. Change Your Watch To Destination Time Zone
Trick your head into thinking in a different time zone and change your watch to your destination clock.
This tip might sound silly, but the power of our mind and suggestion is limitless and will likely affect your jet lag problem too.
During the flight: 11. Avoid Alcohol And Coffee
Since being hydrated is crucial for having a jetlag-free stay at your destination, it is no wonder that alcohol and coffee should be avoided.
These stimulants work against your good sleep at night which is why they are always reduced or kept under control when treating any sleeping disorder.
During the flight: 12. Wear Comfortable Clothes
You don’t want to twist and turn in your seat just because you didn’t choose comfortable clothes for your flight. Especially when on longer flights, having comfortable shoes will make your life much easier.
You will also be more relaxed if wearing comfy clothes which will affect how you feel after the flight and affect your sleep. Having clothes too tight during a 7-hour-long flight might be very frustrating and cause you to be nervous or anxious afterward.
After the flight: 13. Avoid Heavy Meals
When we travel, most of us have the urge to indulge in interesting meals we get to find in our destination. That is completely ok, but if you value your sleep more, make sure that you don’t go overboard with heavy meals.
After the flight: 14. Skip Heavy Exercise
Although activity is a good way to promote better, healthier sleep, having too much exercise may also affect your sleep in a bad way.
For instance, you might exhaust yourself to that point that you can’t even fall asleep. This will make your jet lag symptoms only worse.
After the flight: 15. Expose Yourself To Natural Light
If you applied the tip n.6 before the flight, then you should now put your body’s habit of reacting to bright light into purpose.
When it’s daytime make sure you expose yourself to natural light so that your brain adjusts to the new time zone. This way it will know when you should sleep and when it is the time to be completely awake!
After the flight: 16. Check Your Accommodations
If you’re staying at a hotel, check to see if your bedroom is ok. Check for cleanliness, cooling, and heating system.
If something’s wrong, ask for another room that would be more suitable.
After the flight: 17. Take Melatonin
Another thing that should surely work in reducing or preventing jet lag symptoms is melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep by helping us relax and making us fall asleep.
Melatonin supplements are usually taken 3 hours before bedtime in order to have its peak in the right time. However, some doctors doubt that using Melatonin for jet lag is beneficial.
After the flight: 18. Sleeping Pills
Of course, there are plenty of sleeping pills that will make you fall asleep within minutes. While we don’t recommend sleeping pills as your first option, they can be quite useful when nothing else is able to help you get some sleep.
Make sure you don’t take them for too long and that you take a good dosage at the right time.
How To Treat Jet Lag?
There is no specific medication created to treat jet lag. In fact, if you ask your sleep specialist about this disorder, he will likely tell you that you can only prevent it by implementing some changes we previously wrote about.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Jet Lag?
Usually, travelers get fully recovered from jet lag after a couple of days spent in the new location. The amount of days needed to recover from it is usually calculated at the rate of one or two time zones per day. So for a change of 6 time zones, one would need from three to five days to recover.
However, in some cases when the trip is only a few days long, one might completely disrupt its sleeping schedule which can lead to a longer recovery.
In some cases, jet lag can become a recurring condition. This is quite usual for frequent travelers, pilots, flight attendants, and the airline crew. For them, jet lag might last for quite a long period of time and might also require a more serious treatment approach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Jet Lag Worse Going East or West?
It was found that when traveling eastward, symptoms of jet lag were felt more intensely. How is this possible?
This happens because traveling eastward reduces the hours of our days while traveling westward adds hours to our days. So basically, when going east, our bodies simply have less time to recover from jet lag which is why it’s symptoms are felt more severely than when you go west.