Lots of people are familiar with the term jet lag. Scientifically it is also known as desynchronosis, and it is described as the effect we feel when our circadian rhythms are modified to adjust to time changes. Travelers to different time zones still maintain the rhythm that was present in the home (or starting) time zone. The pattern of sleep will be affected and your brain may have difficulties determining whether your body should be asleep or awake. Thankfully, jet lag is temporary and its effect on your sleep can be cured with a little bit of work. It is important to understand, however, that while you’re adjusting, you’re probably going to feel a little “off”. Keep reading if you want some tips to ease jet lag and learn what exactly causes it.
Jet lag sleeping is often an uncomfortable and difficult thing to accomplish. If you’ve just traveled across two time zones and your family is ready to party, but your body isn’t you are experiencing jet lag. It can happen to anyone at every age and level of fitness. It doesn’t matter how healthy or unhealthy you might be. It can usually be made worse when you fly east rather than the west because you are losing three hours of daylight. When it gets darker quicker, your body has less time to adjust.
How does jet lag affect your body?
Your circadian rhythm is what is being affected by jet lag. The circadian rhythm is your sleep and wake cycle, and it is controlled by your hypothalamus; it is responsible for telling your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Your circadian rhythm works best if you have good sleep habits including going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and night. Your rhythm works on a 24-hour schedule and uses the sunlight to determine how much melatonin your body needs to produce. If your schedule is off from time zone changes, your melatonin levels will be off as well.
Jet Lag Symptoms
Along with the normal feeling of fatigue and sleeplessness, there are several other symptoms that can accompany this disorder:
- Coordination issues
- Heartbeat irregularities
Overwhelmingly, people don’t need to be medically treated for jet lag, unless symptoms are severe. Generally speaking, if symptoms last more than a few days, you should see a doctor or other professional.
How to deal with Jet Lag
The best cure for jet lag is time, but there are certainly some steps you can take to alleviate the discomfort involved in getting back on your schedule.
Melatonin is the naturally occurring hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycle. This hormone typically rises in the mid-to-late evening and remains steady at an elevated level for most of the night while you sleep. Try to take a melatonin supplement before you are supposed to go to bed to kick your body’s original cycle back into gear. Medical Studies have proven that melatonin helps your biological clock reset itself to where it is supposed to be. Before you take any supplements, it is always wise to talk to your doctor to make sure it will not interfere with any other medications or conditions you already have.
What to do before you board the Plane
Taking some precautionary measures before you board the plane can help you prepare for the time change:
- Get plenty of rest before your trip.
- If you can, go to bed one hour earlier if you are traveling east each night beforehand, and one hour later if you’re traveling west. If your trip lasts 2 days or less this might not be necessary.
- Sleep at night if you’ll be on the plane. Sleep masks, headphones, and earplugs should help with the usual distractions of noise and lights on the plane.
- Drink plenty of water on the plane to avoid dehydration.
What to do after the trip
After you arrive at your destination you can help with the jet lag by doing the following:
- Change your schedule to the new time zone as soon as possible. If you can, stay awake until your normal bedtime so you can get up at your normal time.
- Consider light exposure and take the necessary steps to avoid light when you’re sleeping.
- Caffeine is your friend if you’re trying to stay awake. You should be able to stay alert the day after you arrive if you consume a little bit of caffeine, but not too much! It can help your body adjust with the right amount, don’t overdo it or you’ll be jittery.
How to cure jet lag
Jet lag cures are pretty simple and widely known and used. One of the best ways to cure this temporary sleep disorder is to take in as much of the bright sunlight as you can. If you need to reset your circadian rhythm this is one of the most important environmental cues your body receives. Use sunlight when you can, but if you can’t try to use lightboxes to shift your rhythm slowly towards the destination time that you’re traveling to. Spend as much time outdoors as you can if you don’t have access to a lightbox.
Melatonin supplements are also known as jet lag pills. They are another good way to reset your clock with a naturally occurring hormone. As discussed earlier in this article, these supplements are able to increase the naturally occurring hormone in your body, and they will help control your sleep and wake cycle. Although some people use this as a sleep aid, you might find it more useful if you use it as a phase shifter instead. This should also be taken in lower doses to shift your clock rather than in higher doses to induce sleep. The higher doses work like a sedative, so to shift go low, and induce sleep go a little higher. Again, be sure you consult your healthcare professional before considering adding any supplements to your routine.
Jet Lag Sleep Calculator
If you’ve never heard of the jet lag calculator, it’s basically a calculator that can help you determine your plan if you’re traveling across time zones. This calculator works out a plan so you can adequately adjust your sleep patterns before and after traveling.
The number of time zones you cross tells the program how many hours behind or ahead your body will be. This creates a calculation that works out how many hours your body can move in the right direction each day. After you enter your details like as where you’re traveling to and from and the date, the calculator generates your new plan. It eliminates the guesswork and tells you exactly when you can and can’t sleep.
Jet lag has the potential to have serious effects on your body. It will agitate your circadian rhythm, and more than likely it’s going to make the kids cranky. It may even make you cranky. Although it’s an inconvenience to deal with, there are steps you can take to make it more tolerable. Prepare yourself for the destination time zone ahead of time and remember to stock up on some melatonin, sleeping masks, and earplugs to make the flight or trip better.