On Jet Lag
Jet Lag is the effects we feel when crossing time zones. When we experience Jet Lag we feel less optimal, perhaps a bit fuzzy and out of sync with our normal selves.
Our bodies have its own internal clock, or circadian rhythms, that signals our body when to stay awake and when to sleep. Jet lag occurs because our body’s clock is still synced to our original time zone, instead of to the time zone where you’ve traveled.
The reason for this is because our bodies secrete hormones at certain times of the day and in connection with the brain, it’s used to the hormones working at those usual times.
One of our most critical hormones Cortisol, a stress hormone is produced at night and rises in the morning so when you travel into different time zones and your body is awake when you are supposed to be sleeping, this is going to throw off the endocrine system.
Symptoms of Jet lag might be:
Symptoms of jet lag can vary. You may experience only one symptom or you may have many. Jet lag symptoms may include:
- Disturbed sleep — such as insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level
- Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
- A general feeling of not being well
- Mood changes
There are ways to beat jet lag.
Having an understanding of the circadian system is important to be in rhythm while traveling.
The circadian system is the part of the brain that deals with biological activity around the 24-hour cycle. More specifically, there’s a little piece of tissue behind the eye, where the optic nerves crisscross, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), that helps coordinate all the various biological rhythms of the cells in our bodies. The SCN measures the rise and fall of the sun and reminds all the cells of the time the sun will rise in the morning.
A few basic steps may help prevent jet lag or reduce its effects:
- Arrive early. If you have an important meeting or other event that requires you to be in top form, try to arrive a few days early to give your body a chance to adjust.
- Get plenty of rest before your trip. Starting out sleep-deprived makes jet lag worse.
- Gradually adjust your schedule before you leave. If you’re traveling east, try going to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before your departure. Go to bed one hour later for several nights if you’re flying west. If possible, eat meals closer to the time you’ll be eating them at your destination.
- Stay well hydrated before and during the flight.
- Regulate bright light exposure. Because light exposure is one of the prime influences on your body’s circadian rhythm, regulating light exposure may help you adjust to your new location.
Use sunlight to reset your internal clock. It’s the most powerful natural tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Plan ahead to determine the best times for light exposure based on your departure and destination points and overall sleep habits. Morning light exposure can usually help you adjust to an earlier time zone (traveling eastward), while evening light helps you adapt to a later time zone (traveling westward). Combining light exposure with exercise such as walking or jogging may help you adapt to the new time even faster.
As a jet lag remedy and sleep aid, melatonin has been widely studied, and it’s now a commonly accepted part of effective jet lag treatment. The latest research seems to show that melatonin aids sleep during times when you wouldn’t normally be resting, making it beneficial for people with jet lag.
Doses as small as 0.5 milligram seem just as effective as doses of 5 milligrams or higher, although higher doses have been shown by some studies to be more sleep promoting. If you use melatonin, take it 30 minutes before you plan to sleep or ask your doctor about the proper timing.
Avoid alcohol when taking melatonin. Side effects are uncommon but may include dizziness, headache, daytime sleepiness, loss of appetite, and possibly nausea and disorientation.
Watch your Caffeine Intake
You may be used to a ritual of coffees throughout the day to stay alert, but that may not be your best approach when traveling, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While you can have your morning coffee, the foundation suggests avoiding caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bedtime, as they are stimulants that can keep you awake.
Keep in mind that more than just coffee contains caffeine—you should also avoid tea and don’t choose chocolate as a snack, as it too contains caffeine. It may be tough not to have that second or third cup of Joe, but it will be tougher to try to readjust to a new time zone if your clock is out of whack.
Move Your Body
Traveler’s resource Lonely Planet said traveling long distances can result in what it calls “soul delay”, which roughly means that your body has arrived at the destination but your “soul” hasn’t yet. Instead of turning to a nap to fight this “discombobulated” feeling, the article suggests walking around as much as possible to get the blood circulating.