Don’t Vacations Mean Sleep and Rest? How To Fight Jetlag

December 28, 2010

Jetlag-the bane of travellers both seasoned and occasional. Although it varies from person to person, and is less likely to affect older persons, it can put a damper on a much anticipated vacation or make business trips difficult.

Your body has a natural clock, called a circadian rhythm, that is attuned predominantly to the rising and falling of the sun. This rhythm can vary a little between your body’s different systems, but in the end there is a harmony. When the rhythm is disrupted by travel, that’s jetlag (formally it’s called “desynchronosis”).

Most adults circadian rhythms are actually a little longer than 24 hours, sometimes as long as 25 hours. Normally, your body is able to adjust on a daily basis (especially if you have a routine). When you travel, this longer schedule may affect the severity of jetlag: it is easier to stay up late in the west than to get up early in the east.

Symptoms of jet lag occur when you travel multiple timezones–jetlag is your body’s inability to immediately adjust to the new time, specifically, the new bed time, and the new time that the sun rises. As a rule of thumb, it take one day per timezone crossed for symptoms of jet lag to disappear.

Symptoms of Jet Lag:

  • Insomnia
  • Poor Quality Sleep
  • Fatigue/Grogginess
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Irregular GI Tract function (constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach…these can be made worse if your diet is also changed during travel).
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety (your body may react with stress to jet lag on top of anything else).
  • Mild Depression (especially if you aren’t getting enough sunlight).
  • Increased Susceptibility to Illness

How to Deal with Symptoms of Jet Lag:

  • If your trip is short, or if each day is precious, start adjusting your schedule in advance. If you’re going to bed early, use a sleep mask to shut out light.
    • Make sure to match your sleep on a long flight to the nighttime/sleeping hours of your destination (adjust your watch beforehand, or wear two).
    • Plan accordingly: if you’re going to sleep on the plane, dress comfortably, bring an extra sweater, a sleep mask, etc.
  • Immediately adjust your eating schedule, some studies have shown this can be just as important as sleep in adjusting to a new timezone.
    • Fat heavy meals are likely to keep you awake, while carb heavy meals may make you sleepy-keep this in mind while traveling and after you arrive to help plan your adjustment.
  • Consider what other elements of your routine you can use to trick yourself into adjusting to jetlag: Do you always have warm milk before bed? Exercise in the morning?  Take a nap after lunch?
  • Try and plan to spend the first day of your trip outside or in sun filled rooms as much as possible to help trigger the adjustment in your body. If you arrive at night, avoid light sources which may keep you awake, including computers, cell phones, and TVs.
  • Being in good health beforehand will make the adjustment easier, this means 4 things:
    • Eat nutritionally
    • Exercise regularly (also: exercising right before getting on a plane may help you sleep on the plane)
    • Make sure you are sleeping well before the trip.
    • Drink plenty of water (avoid caffeine, alcohol, and anything that may interfere with your desired sleep pattern). Dehydration can complicate jetlag.
  • If you will be severely affected by jetlag, and you have the money and time to do so, consider the following:
    • A stop-over (or two) on the way
    • Picking the most convenient flight (rather than the redeye).
  • Medications may help you fall asleep, but they may leave you sick or groggy for the all-important awake time of your vacation. Instead, some people suggest melatonin. Melatonin is found naturally in dried cherries-but before bringing cherries on a plane or an international flight, be sure to check all regulations about carry-ons and fruit. A simpler solution might be a natural supplement designed with a cocktail of all the things your brain needs to function properly while you sleep.
  • If you take medications for your health regularly, make sure to work out beforehand at what times you’ll take them in the new time zone and on the plane.

Don’t forget: if you’re someone whose immune system suffers when they travel, or when they’re in crowded places like planes, make sure to pack immune supporting supplements (probably in your suitcase, given rules about liquids).

What are your best tips for overcoming jet lag? Let us know in the comments!

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