Your Ultimate Guide to Coping With Jet Lag
The euphoric vibes that the thought of vacation brings almost feel impenetrable. Nothing can possibly spoil something that’s meant to only bring you happiness in the form of good food and sightseeing. But then, reality strikes, and there’s the god-awful concept of jet lag. What’s supposed to be a worry-free trip suddenly becomes an ordeal once your body crosses time zones and you’re faced with the challenges of readjustment. Unfortunately for most of us, coping with jet lag is a serious struggle, but there are certain ways around it to get you back on your well-heeled feet again.
UNDERSTANDING JET LAG
First of all, how can we accurately define jet lag? According to Medical News Today, jet lag can be scientifically defined as a circadian rhythm disorder because it disrupts our circadian rhythm a.k.a. our body clock. Other exchangeable terms are “time zone change disorder” or “desynchronosis.”
To truly understand how jet lag tiredness can be overcome, let’s further break down what the circadian rhythm is. Basically, our circadian rhythm is our 24-hour body clock that regulates other physiological processes such as sleep, waking, eating, and body temperature regulation. Our bodies run on this biological schedule but they are also influenced by external factors such as exposure to sunlight, which makes traveling to a destination time zones away extremely difficult for the circadian rhythm to adjust.
Internally, however, our body clock needs to readjust because two groups of cells in our brain become out of sync. According to Discover Magazine, a study showed that one group adjusts to the time change faster than another group of neurons—the one that governs REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Moreover, since our circadian rhythm is out of joint, it affects the processes it regulates such as our hormones and body temperature. Only when these things reconcile (internal factors to external factors) and readjust can one overcome jet lag.
SYMPTOMS OF JET LAG
3. Gastrointestinal disorders
4. Difficulty staying alert
5. Disturbed sleep
IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR ADJUSTING QUICKLY
Now that we’ve got a grip on this foundational knowledge, obviously, our goal is to be able to adjust quickly upon arrival so we could catch up on sleep and enjoy our vacation. There are still other factors to remember if we really want to defeat the monster that is jet lag:
1. Sunlight exposure
Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, so getting enough exposure—not too much—is key to allowing our body clocks to readjust. According to Mayo Clinic, light influences the regulation of the hormone melatonin which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to sunlight signals the hypothalamus gland in our brain to inhibit the release of melatonin, thus producing very little. At night, the absence of light signals the brain to release more melatonin, thus making us sleepy.
2. Flying eastward is more difficult
Jet lag only occurs when we cross two or more time zones, but it’s much harder to adjust when you fly eastward because you “lose time.” It’s harder for the body clock to “catch up” to your destination’s time zone.
According to Web MD, exercise helps keep us sharp during the day and also makes it easier for us to fall asleep at night.
As we all know, the plane’s recycled air on circulation doesn’t do any good to our health and leads to dehydration—and consequently, discomfort. That being said, it’s best to stay hydrated. The Sleep Foundation notes that dehydration results in sleep disruptions as well.
5. Alcohol and caffeine
Caffeine should obviously be avoided hours before your bedtime, and while alcohol makes you feel relaxed, it prevents you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep.
We’ve covered all bases—it’s time to put them into actionable tasks!
TIPS BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Simulate your destination’s time schedule days before your flight.
According to Web MD, experts suggest that it’s best to simulate your new schedule days prior to your flight. You can also start taking meals based on your destination’s hours, just so your body can slowly readjust its patterns.
Choose a flight that arrives in the morning or day time.
Based on various sources, it seems there hasn’t been a set rule yet as to when the best arrival time is. (Some say it’s best to arrive at night, others argue for a morning arrival.) Following the “sunlight exposure” principle, however, it would probably be best to arrive in the morning. The sunlight will help you regularize your circadian rhythm.
TIPS DURING THE FLIGHT
Get a head start.
Once you’re on the plane, psych yourself to thinking you’ve already landed—that means you need to abide by your destination’s time zone. Change your watch’s time to destination time and adjust yourself accordingly. Sleep when its nighttime at your destination.
Keep active on the plane by doing short exercises.
While the idea of sitting on a plane and binge-watching a couple of movies and TV series sounds comforting, doing short exercises helps keep your sleep-wake patterns going.
Drink a lot of water to minimize dehydration.
Dry cabin air makes it easier for you to become dehydrated. Drink water periodically and avoid drinking right before you go to sleep to avoid having to go to the bathroom.
Consider melatonin to adjust while in-flight.
Apparently, melatonin isn’t proven to combat jet lag, but given that it is a natural hormone, you can definitely consider drinking a pill to help you doze off. (We know you'll reach for it.)
Avoid meals high in carbs or fat.
According to the Sleep Foundation, food that contains the amino acid tryptophan causes sleepiness. Carbohydrate-heavy food and protein-rich food make this amino acid more available to the brain. “We do recommend not eating a high-carb or fatty diet close to bedtime because that can be disruptive to sleep.”
Make sure to pack some earplugs and blindfolds to dampen noise and to cancel out the light to sleep better.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
As mentioned earlier, you should try to avoid caffeine at least three to four hours before bedtime. Try to resist that tempting glass of red wine before going to bed, too.
TIPS ON ARRIVAL
Get a lot of sunlight.
Web MD suggests, ”On westward flights, get bright morning light at your new destination, and avoid afternoon and evening light exposure... On eastward flights, avoid early light exposure in [the] morning and get as much light as possible in the afternoon and early evening. The light helps shift your body’s circadian clock so that you feel rested and wake at appropriate times at your destination.”
Exercise during the day.
Avoid heavy exercise at night because this will keep you alert and awake.
The Sleep Foundation mentions two stress-related conditions that can lead to sleeplessness. These will make it harder for you to overcome your jet lag. The first condition is “The First Night Effect,” which basically comes from being in a new and unfamiliar environment. On the other hand, the second condition, “The On-Call Effect,” manifests during those times when you think of that incoming text message or when you anticipate little noisy sounds that might awake you. Try to relax and not be so hyperaware.
Do your favorite nighttime routine.
We all have specific bedtime routines that help us bring down our energy levels. Whether it’s a glass of warm milk, a hot bath, scented candles, or a pampering face mask, just do whatever it is you need to do to slowly beat the enemy (jet lag). Shop a few items below and happy traveling!
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