What causes jet lag?
The globe is divided into 24 time zones. The clock changes one hour for every 15 degrees travelled east or west from the Greenwich Meridian, which is an imaginary line passing through Greenwich, London. Jet lag can occur after rapidly crossing time zones, which causes your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, to be out of sync with the light-dark cycle of your new location. The more time zones you cross, and the direction you travel can affect the severity of jag lag, and its duration. Flying east is typically harder to acclimate to as you “lose” time traveling.
Although everyone traveling by airplane across two or more time zones is susceptible, those over 60 years of age are the most likely to experience jet lag. As we age, the ability to sleep at off times generally decreases, making it more difficult to adjust to sudden changes. Jet lag is temporary and is reported to take about a day to recover for each time zone crossed.
Strategies for minimizing jet lag
- Book long flights with a stopover. A stopover during travels helps your body adjust to the time difference.
- Alter your sleep routine before flying. If you’ll be traveling west, go to bed later than usual several nights before traveling and sleep later. If you’ll be traveling east, start going to bed earlier several nights before traveling and wake up earlier than you normally would. Regardless, get plenty of sleep before your trip.
- Reduce stress by planning and packing ahead of time. Check-in online to avoid a last minute rush.
During the flight
- Drink water to keep hydrated. Drinking alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating, disrupt sleep patterns and can increase the severity of jet lag.
- When departing at night, wear sunglasses on the plane to avoid light. This will help your body’s internal clock advance to the new time zone. When flying east in the morning, skip the sunglasses and expose yourself to light on the flight.
- Relax. When it’s time to sleep on the plane, wear an eye mask and earplugs or headphones.
- Transition eating/sleeping times. When possible, eat meals or sleep according to the destination time.
- Movement on long flights will help you fight fatigue. During wake times, stretch and walk the cabin aisles hourly.
- If you flew east at night from the US to London, for example, continue wearing sunglasses after you’ve reached your destination, until 11:00 a.m., which would be 6 a.m. in the US. This will help your body slowly transition to the new time and possibly avoid fatigue. Then remove the sunglasses and enjoy sunlight through the afternoon. This will help you be more alert and move your internal clock forwards to the local time.
- If you flew east in the morning, expose yourself to morning light when you arrive. Wear sunglasses in the afternoon to avoid sunlight and shift your circadian rhythm backwards.
- Keep as close to normal eating and sleeping times as possible on short trips lasting no more than 3 days.
- Try to get a minimum of 4 hours of sleep during the local night hours. This will help you adapt to the new time zone.
- Short naps will help you recover lost sleep and avoid exhaustion and other symptoms of jet lag.
- Soak in a hot tub or take a warm bath to ease sore muscles from travel and to help you relax and prepare for restful sleep.
Natural jet lag and travel aids
The supplement, melatonin has been found in studies to relieve jet lag as it promotes sleep during off-times. The Mayo Clinic states, “Your body treats melatonin as a darkness signal, and generally has the opposite effect of bright light. If you’re trying to reset your body clock to an earlier time, such as after flying east, you should take melatonin in the evening. If you’re trying to reset your body clock at a later time, such as after flying west, melatonin should be taken in the morning. 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.” Allow up to ten hours for sleep after taking melatonin.
No-Jet-Lag is a homeopathic pill to prevent jet lag. Other natural products that may make air travel more comfortable are nasal hydration sprays, ear plugs that relieve air pressure discomfort during flight, and PSI bands, based on the principles of acupressure to prevent nausea and motion sickness. Discuss appropriate jet lag treatments with your doctor before traveling.
Safe and happy time travels.
Deborah Tukua is the editor of Journey to Natural Living and the author of the healthy fresh from the blender recipe book, Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She is a freelance writer for the Farmers' Almanac and Chiropractic Economics magazine and author of the book, Marketing Strategies for Chiropractic Success. Check out Lowell and Deborah's super sturdy and handsome DIY Gardening Potting Bench Plans.