As lovely as vacations can be, jet lag can quickly put a damper on things. For folks traveling at odd hours or across a time-zone or two, jet lag can really cut-in to their first day or two of vacation. When traveling from one continent to another, or even around the world, jet lag can quickly eat up days of time you could have spent enjoying your travel holiday.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Beyond not being able to sleep when you “should” be sleeping (according to whatever time zone you’ve landed in), there are a variety of other symptoms associated with jet lag. Jet lag can cause body aches, muscle cramps, irritability, confusion, difficulty concentrating, flu-like symptoms including a runny nose, and it can even disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle. \
Most people suffering from jet lag feel generally out-of-sync with the time zone they’ve landed in and they’re often hungry at odd hours and my experience insomnia at night and tiredness during the day.
Cause of Jet Lag
The human body has a natural clock called the circadian rhythm. It’s regulated by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Based upon the amount of light we see at any given time, the hypothalamus secretes a hormone to help us stay awake (while it’s “light out”) or a different hormone to help us sleep (when it’s dark).
When we fly across time zones, the hypothalamus can become confused and start to secrete the wrong type of hormone at the wrong time.
How to Prevent Jet Lag
Prepare ahead of time – A few days before you plan to travel, start shifting your schedule to slowing match up with the time zone you’ll be traveling to. Go to bed a bit earlier or later and wake up earlier or later, depending on which way you’re traveling.
Brave the great outdoors – As soon as possible after landing in the new time zone, get outside during the daytime. If you arrive while it’s still light out, spend some time outside to help reset your hypothalamus. If you arrive at night, try to wake up early the next morning and go outside to help your brain adjust.
Stay hydrated! Many travelers, especially those on long flights, are dehydrated. Dehydration can intensify symptoms of jet lag. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your plane travel. Likewise, avoid caffeine and alcohol during and immediately after travel as they can cause dehydration.
Eat smaller meals, more often – A day or two before travel and a day or two after you arrive in your destination, eat 5-6 smaller meals a day rather than 3 large ones. This helps your body adjust to the new time zone more quickly as it won’t be so accustomed to a strict 3 meals a day pattern.
Take short naps – If you feel the need to sleep at odd hours (like the middle of the day) once you arrive, don’t worry! A quick 15-45 minute nap can help you feel refreshed. Just be careful not to overdo it and sleep the day away as you’ll likely feel all the more jet lagged if you wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep.
Be Active – Finally, be sure to get up and walk around every 2 hours or less during long flights. When you arrive in your destination, walk around, do some yoga or head to the hotel fitness center for a quick workout to help get your blood flowing and to give you a burst of energy.
Prevention really is the best medicine when it comes to jet lag and it can mean the difference between a lovely 7 day vacation and you spending the first day or two of your trip in bed. Enjoy your trip to the fullest and prevent jet lag before it happens!