You’ve planned your trip, you’ve packed your bags and you’re ready for the adventure. The plane lands, the excitement of a new city awaits, but your eyes begin to feel heavy and you want nothing more than to rest your head against a pillow. Ah yes, the wonders of jet lag – a form of sleep disorder caused by crossing time-zones that disrupts your internal body clock.
With the Federal Aviation Administration recording over 1 Billion (yes, that’s a B!) passengers flying through the U.S. last year alone, we decided to explore jet lag and how to minimize its impact.
What’s happening to the body?
Our bodies have a system called the ‘circadian rhythm’ that runs on a 24hr cycle and is known as our internal clock. The system promotes many biological functions, like releasing hormones to promote sleep and regulating body temperature.
As we travel across time-zones, our bodies are forced to adapt to a new 24hr cycle, which causes our bodies to become confused, promoting sleep hormones like melatonin when we should be wide awake.
It takes the body anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to completely shift the internal clock to a new time zone. As a rule of thumb, it takes approximately one hour for every time zone crossed.
To make matters worse, the barometric pressure on planes tends to be considerably lower than air on the ground. This impacts our blood pressure to promote a lethargic sensation when you first touch down.
How to manage jet lag?
- Hydration, hydration, hydration – in-flight dehydration is commonplace and is caused by cabin air being less humid due to it being recycled from the engine compressors. Dehydration worsens fatigue, lowers concentration, promotes mood swings and stomach pains. It is suggested to avoid coffee and alcohol and instead drink plenty of water. Hydration supplements with minerals like magnesium for muscle and nerve function can also be a smart option, but avoid those with high sugar.
- Exercise is always the answer – by working out in the morning or evening, you can manipulate your internal clock forward or backward, depending on the direction of travel. This can be done for a few days before you leave to prepare the body, as well as when you land to speed up the transition.
- Get outside – the sun’s light tells your body it’s time to be awake. If you can, get outside in the sunlight during prime daylight hours it will help reset your internal clock and reduce symptoms of jet lag.
- Calm the mind – you’re already stuck sitting upright in a chair, so why not try turning your music off and switching to a guided meditation. It will bring your body into a state of deep rest which will allow you to sleep better and feel more refreshed once you arrive.
- Choose a direction - the body is more impacted when traveling Eastward because you are going against the direction of your body’s normal day-night progression. If you have to travel East, try going to sleep early for a few days before your flight to give your body the best chance of adapting to your destinations time-zone.
- Consider supplements – as mentioned above, melatonin is a naturally releasing hormone as part of our circadian rhythm and thus controls many symptoms of jet lag. This hormone can be supplemented for a few days after you arrive to aid the body’s transition, but don’t go overboard. Studies have shown that 0.5mg is just as effective as higher doses.