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    Travel Health
    1234 · 20 min read

    Beating Jet Lag: A Traveller's Guide For How To Get Over Jet Lag

    Travelling the world and seeing new places is exciting. But one common challenge many face is jet lag. In simple terms, jet lag happens when we quickly travel between time zones, and our body's internal clock gets confused with the new local time. This mix-up can make us feel really tired, and out of sorts, and even mess with our sleep. Why does this happen, and is there a way to handle it better? In this guide, we'll break down what causes jet lag and share easy-to-follow tips to help you feel better when you travel. So, the next time you hop on a plane to a new time zone, you'll be better prepared.

    Man sleeping at an airport to avoid jet lag

    What is jet lag?

    Jet lag, also known as circadian desynchrony, is a sleep disorder in which there is a mismatch between the body’s natural circadian rhythm and the external environment as a result of rapid travel across multiple time zones (Choy et al, 2011). The body’s internal circadian rhythm is a natural bodily function that helps to regulate a number of processes in the body in 24-hour cycles. Your circadian rhythm is set by the time zone that you live in, so when you move across time zones it can take some time for your body to adjust. 

    Why does jet lag happen?

    Jet lag happens when our body's natural routines get mixed up with the local time because we've travelled quickly across different time zones. The rhythm most noticeably affected by the effects of jet lag is the sleep cycle (Waterhouse et al, 2003). Our body has its own "clock" that tells it when to do certain things like release a sleep hormone called melatonin. Normally, light stops this hormone, but when we change time zones quickly, our body's clock gets confused. It can take several days for our bodies to adjust to the new time zone. If we can help our body adjust faster, we can feel better sooner after travelling.

    How can you avoid/treat jet lag?

    Travelling to different time zones can make us feel out of sorts, but there are ways to help. Below are some tips on 'How can you avoid jet lag?'. By following these, you can feel better and more awake after your trips.

    Can being patient help to beat jet lag?

    Being patient can help in managing jet lag. While it doesn't directly counter the condition, understanding that our bodies need time to adjust and avoiding quick fixes can be beneficial. A patient approach reduces stress, encourages healthier adjustment strategies, and sets realistic expectations for activities when arriving in a new time zone. Usually, you should recover from the symptoms of jet lag after a couple of days in a new time zone. The most common symptoms of jet lag include:

    • Difficulty sleeping

    • Tiredness

    • Difficulty staying awake

    • Poor sleep quality 

    • Problems with concentration and memory

    Can adjusting your sleep schedule help beat jet lag?

    Yes, adjusting your sleep schedule can help beat jet lag. Travelling across time zones can throw off our body's internal clock, causing what we know as jet lag. But instead of making big, sudden changes to sleep times (which can make jet lag worse), it's better to gradually adjust your sleep schedule. This keeps your sleep in line with your body's internal clock (Eastman et al, 2009)

    It's also worth noting that our body's clock adjusts faster in one direction than the other. Using bright light can help speed up this adjustment. Many people make the mistake of suddenly changing their sleep times after long flights, which can prolong the jet lag feeling.

    Can staying hydrated help to beat jet lag?

    Yes, staying hydrated can help combat the effects of travel fatigue, which often accompanies jet lag. While dehydration isn't the sole cause of jet lag, the dry cabin air during long flights can contribute to discomfort (Waterhouse et al, 2003). By staying hydrated, travellers can lessen travel fatigue, making it easier to cope with the overall challenges of jet lag.

    Can getting exposure to natural sunlight help to beat jet lag?

    Yes, getting exposure to natural sunlight can help beat jet lag. Sunlight plays a significant role in setting our internal body clock. When we travel across many time zones, it's essential to adjust to the new day-night schedule. Being in natural sunlight can assist in resetting our body's clock and counteracting the effects of jet lag. For those who can't get natural sunlight, light therapy using devices that mimic sunlight can also be effective (Choy et al, 2011).

    Can strategic napping help to beat jet lag?

    Strategic napping refers to the deliberate use of short sleep sessions, or naps, scheduled at specific times to maximise alertness, cognitive performance, and overall well-being. Strategic napping can be a tactic people may use to help alleviate the symptoms of jet lag and has been used by athletes who need to quickly adjust to new time zones. The best time to nap (in flight or postflight) is nighttime in the destination time zone. It should be noted that power naps, a nap that lasts less than 20 minutes or less, do not result in sleep inertia (Lee et al, 2012)

    Sleep inertia refers to the groggy and disoriented feeling experienced immediately after waking up from a nap or a night's sleep. It's that period when you feel not quite alert and perhaps a bit confused, making it challenging to perform tasks, especially those that require attention or quick thinking.

    Can staying active help to beat jet lag?

    Yes, staying active can help beat jet lag. The timing of exercise can also influence the body's internal clock. For instance, exercise at 1:00 pm caused a phase advance, meaning it shifted the body's clock earlier, while exercise at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm caused a phase delay, pushing the body's clock later (Youngstedt et al, 2019). These shifts suggest that strategically timed exercise can influence our body's internal rhythms, potentially helping in adjusting faster to a new time zone and, therefore, in beating jet lag.

    Can avoiding eating heavy meals help to beat jet lag?

    There is insufficient evidence to suggest that eating a heavy meal can help to beat jet lag. What we do know, however, is that having a 5-hour delay between meals can help the internal rhythms of your body. Meal timing can influence some aspects of our internal body rhythms, especially those related to glucose metabolism (Wehrens et al, 2017). Changing the timings of your meal, rather than increasing the amount you eat, may be a tactic to employ if you are going to be travelling. 

    Man lying on a bed with a shirt and tie on, experiencing the side effects of jet lag

    Can limiting screen time help to beat jet lag?

    Limiting screen time, particularly before bedtime, can be beneficial in managing and potentially reducing the symptoms of jet lag. This may be because of blue light exposure. Exposure to blue light just before sleep can negatively impact sleep quality and circadian rhythm (Wahl et al, 2019). This can worsen the effects of jet lag, particularly if you expose yourself to blue light on a flight. By limiting your screen time, especially on your flight, you may be helping prevent jet lag symptoms. 

    Can creating a comfortable sleep environment help to beat jet lag?

    A comfortable sleep environment can vary slightly for each individual based on personal preferences. Creating a comfortable sleeping environment may not necessarily help the chances of ‘beating’ jet lag. However, creating a sleep environment where you can change light levels could help your body to acclimatise before a long trip. 

    When it's light outside, the eyes send signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus through the optic nerve. This signal makes sure that melatonin, a sleep hormone, is not released from the pineal gland. When it gets dark outside, the opposite happens: the signals slow down, allowing the pineal gland to release melatonin, which helps us feel sleepy (Reddy et al, 2023). Prior to a long trip, you may find it beneficial to monitor light levels where you sleep.

    Can monitoring your caffeine intake help beat jet lag?

    Yes, monitoring your caffeine intake can potentially help combat jet lag-induced daytime sleepiness. However, it's important to note that while caffeine can increase alertness, it might also make insomnia caused by jet lag worse (Ambesh et al, 2018). Caffeine can make it harder to sleep because it keeps the brain alert and active. It blocks adenosine, a chemical in our brain that helps us sleep and can increase other chemicals that boost our mood and attention.

    Sources

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    Blog author

    Scott Weaver

    Scott is an experienced and professional content writer who works exclusively for UK Meds.

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