It’s 3am and you’re staring at the ceiling. You either haven’t been able to get to sleep yet or you’ve managed to get a paltry 2 hours and your body has decided to wake you up thinking it’s time for your afternoon nap to end. Welcome to jet lag!
Jet lag is basically a disruption of the body’s internal clock caused by travel into a different timezone. When we aren’t travelling (for most people this is most of the time), our bodies follow what’s called a circadian rhythm. A small part of our brain called the hypothalamus follows this rhythm to activate various body functions such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. It also regulates body temperature, blood pressure, and the level of hormones and glucose in the bloodstream. When this rhythm gets disrupted, jet lag occurs.
Besides fatigue and insomnia, other symptoms of jet lag can sometimes include nausea, dehydration, anxiety and bowel problems although these are quite rare.
Is some travel worse than others?
Yes. If you fly within a band of 2 or 3 time zones then the effects of jet lag are minimal and you most likely won’t suffer any adverse effects. This includes long flights in a north-south direction (although you may feel tired from the experience of the long-haul flight itself).
Travelling in an easterly direction however, typically causes the most problems as you lose time and can quite often lose an entire night’s sleep.
Flying west, you gain time and therefore will usually have an easier time adjusting to the new timezone but nonetheless will still most likely suffer some symptoms of jet lag.
How long does it last?
Typically your body will adjust to your new timezone at a rate of 1 or 2 timezones per day. So for an 8 hour change in timezone you could expect to feel jet lag effects for 5 or 6 days.
How to minimise it…
If you travel more across than 3 time zones then it is inevitable that you will experience some sort of jet lag but there are ways in which to minimise the effect.
1. Adjust as soon as possible
This is by far one of the best ways to minimise jet lag. As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch to the new time at your destination and try and stick to that new timezone. If it’s daytime there, try and stay awake and if it’s night time, try and take as much sleep as you can. Granted, this may not be the easiest thing to achieve on a plane but the more you can do it the less you’ll feel the effects when you land.
2. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water (juices and soft drinks are ok too) but try and avoid diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine as they will have a negative effect.
3. Move around
If you can, every couple of hours, stand up and move about the plane. This will refresh your muscles and joints and will also break up the monotony of the flight itself.
4. Dress comfortably
Wear comfortable clothes that will allow you to maximise rest and won’t restrict movement while on the plane. Also, dress for your destination – you don’t want to be arriving in a cold rain shower wearing shorts and flip-flops.
5. Short trips
If your trip is only a day or two then the best way to avoid jet lag altogether is to try and stay on your home time as much as possible. Obviously this may not be possible if you have commitments at your destination but the more you can achieve this the less effect you’ll have when you return home.
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