WHAT IS JETLAG?
Jet lag isn’t a made up term used to describe the exhaustion of traveling, it’s an actual medical condition. Jet lag, also known as circadian desynchrony, is a sleep disorder caused by a mismatch with the body’s circadian rhythm and the external environment due to rapid travel across time zones (Choy and Salbu, 2011).
The circadian rhythm is a natural system within the body that follows a 24-hour cycle. It regulates sleep based on the light/dark cycle; the body’s internal biological clock uses light as a signal to be awake and alert and the dark to induce drowsiness and fall asleep (CDC, 2020). In addition to sleep, circadian rhythms influence body temperature, digestion, eating habits, and hormone release (NIH, 2022). You may feel fatigue after traveling to a different time zone and “losing hours” because your body’s internal clock runs on the previous time zone. Jet lag may also cause disturbed sleep, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, and stomach problems (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
Tips for Overcoming Jet Lag
Overcoming jet lag and adjusting to the local timezone is important to make the most of any trip. Before traveling, always be aware of the timezone of your destination and use the travel time to start adjusting to these changes. Some airlines adjust the cabin lighting to mimic the time zone of the plane destination. The lights in the cabin dim during the night and turn on during the daytime of the final destination. Using the change in lighting as a guide for staying awake and sleeping can help make that new time zone adjustment easier. If you have trouble sleeping on planes, try using a good sleeping mask and ear plugs to trick the body into sleeping.
According to Mayo Clinic, regulating bright light exposure prior to travel can help adjust the body’s circadian rhythm. If you are traveling westward, exposure to light in the evening helps the body adjust to the later time zone and exposure to morning light can help those traveling eastward adjust to the earlier time zone. This rule does not apply for those traveling more than eight time zones. If you’re traveling eastward, wear sunglasses, avoid light in the morning, and expose yourself to as much sunlight in the later afternoon after landing. If you’re traveling west, try ending your nights earlier and avoiding sunlight a few hours before dark for the first few days after arriving (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
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