Let's be real - jet lag is one of the worst parts about flying! Yes, it's temporary, and no I would not stop traveling as a result of it. Below I’ve detailed the painful realities of jet lag, and how to minimize them on your next trip. You can thank me later!
Jet lag - you know the sensation: You are not aware of what day it is, brain fog is your middle name, and your eyes open randomly in the middle of the night! It feels like your body is in one zone while your brain is in another. Don’t let jet lag ruin the joys of travelling. So how do you deal with jet lag?
What is Jet Lag?
Our watches along with our phone clocks work on a 24-hour cycle, so do our bodies. When the body clock, or circadian rhythm, is out of sync because we’re between time zones–we get jet lag. The more time zones you cross, the higher the likelihood for you to experience jet lag. So, what is it exactly?
The Mayo Clinic defines it as, "Jet lag, also called jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleep disorder that can affect any person that rapidly takes a trip throughout several time zones."
Jet lag strikes us when our internal body clocks are off kilter with our destination's time clock. Jet lag frequently causes sensations of fatigue, fogginess, and problems with concentrating, intestinal problems, and a lowered immune feedback. When skirting any type of more than two time zones, our body's biorhythms end up being affected.
Clinically speaking, jet lag impacts our body temperatures, hormones, our hunger levels and/or absence thereof, and even our blood pressure. Jumping between time zones offset our body’s clocks, and jet lag impacts more than just our rest cycles, it can make our digestive tract behaviors, appetite, focus, digestion, and allergies fluctuate. We know we’re back to normal and ourselves again when our mental clarity returns, and the fog is nowhere to be found.
What Causes Jet Lag?
A lot of frequent flyers and international travelers have experience some type of jet lag, or desynchronosis, at one time or another. We know it can occur, however, why does it take place?
Sunshine lets our body clocks know when it’s time to wake up and sleep. Lower levels of light (less blue light) triggers the brain, specifically the hypothalamus, to release melatonin, a hormone responsible for helping you sleep. And for example, if you travel to a time zone opposite to your own, it can invert your circadian rhythm, leaving you wide awake at night.
There is research that suggests that high altitude as well as in-flight cabin stress can contribute symptoms of jet lag. Additionally, the absence of moisture in aircrafts and the individual’s levels of dehydration can add to jet lag symptoms. For most people, it takes a full 24 hours to recuperate from each time zone passed (the more time zones you go across, the worse the jet lag). The frequency of flights also has an impact (if you're flying several times within a few days, jet lag could be even worse). Lastly, medical history like asthma, allergies or decreased immunity can make the signs and symptoms of jet lag feel worse.
Jet Lag Symptoms:
While disorientation and exhaustion are a few of the most apparent symptoms of jet lag, there are others that may take us longer to put our jet-lag-delayed fingers on. Do you experience any of these?
- Insomnia/excessive tiredness.
- Exhaustion throughout the day
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hazy focus, confusion
- Brain fog
- Stomach trouble (aka: constipation/diarrhea/bloating/ nauseous).
- Increased sensitivity to allergies or asthma
Jet Lag Prevention:
We all have personal methods we follow to help us while traveling, but some are more proven than others. Here are a few effective ways for lessening or stopping jet lag.
Pro Tip: It’s always best to match the destination’s location time whether it’s food, sleep, light exposure, etc.
Dress for Comfort: Remember you’re supposed to be seated for three or more hours, so be sure to put on comfy clothes during the flight. Bring a blanket, eye mask, and travel cushion. The last thing here is sound protection, be sure to invest in earplugs or sound canceling earphones, needless to say they block out a ear-full.
Compression: Have you heard of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)? Right. Well, you don't want this to happen to you. This happens when swelling and blood clotting occurs when you’ve been sitting for too long on a flight. Compression gear comes in a myriad of variants, like: socks, stockings, undergarments, and shirts. They help increase circulation and reduce swelling by constantly applying pressure and slightly squeezing the body part with the garment. Think of it helping your veins and muscles move blood more efficiently. Compression gear is one of jet lags worst enemies because it’s simple, cost effective and a safe way to keep blood circulating
Plan for Sleep: As mentioned before, dress comfy and be sure to do your nightly routines (brush teeth, meditate, read, wash face) to get your mind prepared for bed. It’s best to sleep during the destination’s evening / night time to adjust as quickly as possible.
Hydrate: Do yourself a HUGE favor and skip the alcohol and high levels of caffeine. Yes, sometimes they are free on flights, but they cause massive amounts of dehydration. Instead, replenish your body with H2O, aka water. Drink a bottle of water after you make it through TSA as well as prior to boarding your flight. Make sure that you are consuming a bottle of water every hour during your flight as well. Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it as frequently as possible, most terminals have water refill stations within a few steps of the gates. During the flight, attendants can refill your water bottle, but remember some of the water given on planes, specifically hot and warm water, are not the cleanest because water reservoirs can host germs–bottle water is best in-flight.
Prepare Your Sleep Times: Change your sleep time and evening routines before your flight. If you try to adjust to your destination’s time, it will help prepare your circadian clock in advance. Change your watch to the new time zone upon boarding, and do your absolute best to get to bed at your destination’s bedtime. Remember, when flying west, you should stay up a little later, and when flying east, move your bedtime up prior to taking the trip.
Some travelers suggest taking a low level dose of melatonin to help adjust their sleeping cycles, or to help them sleep on the plane. You can also look into alternative sleep aid supplements like: valerian root extract, CBD or reishi mushroom powder. If you're considering taking sleep supplements, consult with your doctor first, and give it a try prior to traveling to see how your body reacts. Don’t take a new medication or supplement in-flight for the very first time.
Light Exposure: It’s extremely important to manage your exposure to natural light, artificial and digital light while traveling; yes, this includes your phone, tablets and all of the other displays used in-flight. Again, it's important to ensure you’re preparing for your destination’s local time. This means readjusting your down time, dimming lights and using blue blocking filters. And when it’s time to sleep, break out your blackout eye mask and close the window shade. One thing to note here is the use of blue blocking technology including glasses and device applications are critical to avoid jet lag. As mentioned before, light affects the production of melatonin; so, in order to adjust your circadian clock, you’ll have to use or avoid blue light which signals the stay up or go to sleep, respectively. You can pick up a pair of blue blockers, which are also extremely helpful when used at home daily roughly two hours before bed to signal melatonin production. With regard to your devices, be sure to use computer or mobile applications like f.lux or night shift to turn your device display from blue to orange, or vice versa.
Time Your Meals: Shift your mealtimes and types to match your destination location. For example, this may include having breakfast for dinner, skipping lunch (because you’re sleeping), and dinner when you land, as if your body assumes its early morning. Your system will turn back on with breakfast at the destination's first meal. Adjusting your feeding windows before take off or on touch down will make jet lag much easier to manage.
Fasting: Skip a meal, in fact skip lunch and dinner. What do I mean? We know that the human body is supposed to be on the earth’s surface and not 36,000 feet above the ground, so it’s safe to assume that consuming food or other substances in the air can cause the body to freakout. The point here is to avoid disrupting your metabolism, which is already overloaded when flying. Fasting will allow the body to reduce oxidative stress, decrease jet lag and increase energy levels as a result; and it’s free!
Pick Your Seat Wisely: Depending on your in-flight comfort level, cabin selection, cruising elevation, flight duration your choice of seat could play a big role in effecting jet lag. Of course, first class would be our first choice, but flight and trip planning can add up and isn’t always affordable; so we can’t always get the best seats in the house, or plane for that matter. Let’s go through some options:
Want to be able to lean on your travel cushion? Get ahold of a window spot. Or do you want to have easy accessibility to move freely within the cabin - choose an aisle seat. Do you need extra legroom, yet do not want to pay the hefty costs? See if you can obtain a bulkhead row, seats behind interior dividing walls.
Select Your Aircraft: Some planes are built to help travelers minimize jet lag. Give the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner a shot. These aircrafts are specially designed to help lessen jet lag as much as possible. The layout of these airplanes are optimized for greater levels of humidification, better air purification systems, bigger windows to allow more light, and higher ceilings to make moving less restricted.
Jet Lag Treatment
If, despite the measures you’ve taken, you're still suffering from jet lag, here are some things you can do to reduce the effects!
Arrive Early, Get Sunshine: If it's incredibly early, say 2 AM to 5 AM, you can grab a couple of hours of sleep to regulate your internal clock but after that, you should do your best to catch the sunrise and get the natural power blue light (signalling your body to wake up) which is only emitted within the first 2 to 3 hours of sunrise.* After that, make sure you practice your morning rituals and ensure you don't nap throughout the day.
*Aside from the morning blue light, try to get outdoors and as much natural sunshine as you can. The sun is arguably the best tool to synchronize your circadian clock.
Plan a Stopover Or Two, Split the Jet Lag: If time permits, plan a stop of an extra day or more on your journey to your intended destination and split the jet lag in half. Stay in Peru for a couple of days on a trip from Vancouver to Argentina. Spend a few days in Abu Dhabi on a trip from New York to Thailand, or hang in London while traveling from Orlando to Mumbai. If your travel plans and budget permits, the few added days will provide your body’s clock a little time to catch up on time zones crossed, therefore, making the jet lag at your final location a bit better.
Get Up, Move & Stretch: Onboard and upon arrival, get up and move! Onboard, movement and mobility exercises will assist with blood circulation and reduce the dreaded danger of DVT mentioned above–so be that person to stretch in the aisles, do jumping jacks by the bathrooms or anywhere you can, it's for your own health! Upon arrival, walking, stretching, and light exercises is highly recommended, and it’ll help with syncing your body’s clock.
Try Earthing: A method (my personal favorite) for reducing jet lag is called earthing or grounding. It requires you to get your feet on the earth for approximately 30 minutes upon arrival. Earth would be anything natural that is one the earth’s surface like: grass, dirt & sand, and bodies of water. The earth holds negative ions which helps the human body detox and remove positively charged ions (free radicals), which thus reduces systemic inflammation and creates homeostasis in the body.
Once You Get Home, how can you Overcome Jet Lag?
Do your best to return to your regular timetable as soon as possible, however, take it slow. You may have had those times where you've flown back in at 6 a.m. and have gone straight to the office; in some cases it works but this is not recommended for what your body requires.
Know your body, adjust on your own time, drink plenty of good water, take in sunlight, and get up and move. Make sure to replenish your hydration levels before you start getting active. One recommended product you can easily take with you on your travels is Z-Hydrate, a NanoTechnology Rehydration Powder. Using products like this can help your body recover faster by feeding it with vital nutrients in one shot.
Enjoy your next travel jet-lag free!