Jet lag is a pervasive feeling of tiredness and confusion that results from travel to destinations that are three or more time zones away from home. It’s more than just getting used to a different time of day for activities, and sleep as jet lag can affect your circadian rhythms. These are chemical processes in the body that guide you through your day, influencing metabolism, wake and sleep cycles and the production of hormones like insulin. Circadian rhythms are in sync with the rising and setting of the sun and take place in a 24-hour cycle.
When Circadian Rhythms Are Disrupted
In a temporary situation like travel jet lag, the fuzzy head and fatigue a person may experience should go away once they get back to their regular time zone and routine. But for people who continually change their schedules, such as shift workers and medical personnel, interrupting healthy sleeping and waking patterns can lead to health problems, such as diabetes, weight gain and insomnia.
The Effects of Jet Lag
It can take up to two days to acclimate to a new time zone. If you’re only going to be there a few days, it’s worthwhile to try to speed up that process. It can be hard to fall asleep at an unfamiliar time, and the quality of your sleep may suffer. When you’re under the influence of jet lag, mental and physical tasks can seem more difficult, and you may even have an upset stomach or loss of appetite. If you’re tired or have a headache, those symptoms might just be caused by traveling, and it could help if you lie down for half an hour when you first arrive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, each person’s experience is different, but some of the common symptoms of jet lag are:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Lack of physical coordination
- Mental fogginess
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Irritability and depression
Preventing Jet Lag
In a short-term situation like traveling to a different time zone, it doesn’t help much to know that the jet lag will eventually go away. You don’t want to attend a family reunion or a business meeting feeling as if you need to crawl back in bed for a while. It can even be dangerous to explore an unfamiliar city if you feel lingering fatigue or confusion. Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects of jet lag and enjoy your travel experience.
Before You Leave
The best time to start addressing possible jet lag is before your trip. Avoid looking at computer, phone or TV screens for an hour before bedtime the night before. This should allow you to sleep more soundly and start the day refreshed for travel. Prepare for your trip by getting some exercise the day before, and include protein at breakfast to keep your energy up.
Minimize Travel Fatigue
During travel, consume frequent small meals or snacks and avoid eating a lot at once. This can head off stomach problems, keep your energy levels stable and make it less likely you’ll experience fatigue from a drop in blood sugar. It’s also important to stay hydrated, so carry a water bottle with you and remember to drink from it. You drink more water at home than you realize, and there aren’t as many opportunities to drink water on the road. If you can take breaks to walk around and get your blood circulating, that will also help.
Once You Arrive
One of the best tips is to jump right into the new time zone, especially if you’ll only be there a few days. If you can, arrange to fall asleep two hours early or later the night before, depending on the direction of the upcoming time change. If you’re traveling east, arriving late in the day can help since the fatigue you feel after a day of travel can be used to help you relax and fall asleep at an earlier time than usual. If you’re traveling west, a nap upon arrival can refresh you enough to stay up until a later bedtime.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Be kind to your stomach by continuing to eat small, frequent meals at first. Your whole body will be stressed by the changes in waking and sleeping, exercise and diet habits that are unavoidable during a trip. It’s also a good idea to avoid excessive sugar, caffeine and alcohol for the first day or two until your metabolism adjusts. Alcohol can keep you dehydrated and lead to a headache, just when you’re trying to kick the effects of travel on your body.
If you can give yourself the luxury of an empty schedule on your first day, that will help you adapt. Getting some exercise the day after you make it to your destination, even if it’s just a walk around the block, will also speed up the process, and the sunlight will help reset your internal clock.
Following as many of these tips as possible can help boost your adjustment to a new time zone, so you get the greatest possible enjoyment from your trip.