Long distance travel that involves jumping time zones with a difference of 3 hours or more can throw your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm out of sync. The physiological symptoms that arise as a result of this chronobiological problem are described as jet lag. The breakdown in your natural rhythm has a cascading effect, not just on sleep, but also on the regulation of hormones, hunger, body temperature, and blood pressure. As a result, travelers experience fatigue, insomnia, daytime sleepiness, diarrhea or constipation, and moodiness. These symptoms can vary in severity and will persist until your body adjusts to the changed time zone. This can put a dent in your travel plans, whether for business or pleasure. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent jet lag, but you can take steps to minimize its effects and overcome it more easily.
Tips to Overcome Jet Lag
1. Plan Plan Plan
If you’re traveling across time zones by flight, there’s no avoiding jet lag. However, planning for it and making early adjustments can help your body cope with the change better. By planning for the change you can ease your body into the shift, moving your food and sleep timings closer to what they’d be in the destination time zone. If you’re eastward bound, try advancing your meal and sleep timings gradually, while you should delay them gradually if headed west. You should start doing this in the days leading up to your departure. If you find it difficult to plan this shift, you can even get help from apps like Timeshifter. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that. Similarly, you should put more thought into your flight schedule. Try to book flights with a late night or early morning arrival, so that you can either crash or start your day as soon as you arrive. This will depend on which approach works best for you.
2. Get Your Dose of Melatonin
For all practical purposes, melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body in response to the rhythms of nature. It helps to regulate your sleep cycle. When the sun goes down and light exposure falls melatonin secretion increases; it declines as the sun comes up, encouraging wakefulness. Melatonin supplements can help your body adjust to and overcome jet lag but should be used appropriately. Dosage recommendations on most OTC melatonin supplements are much higher than required. Studies suggest that the ideal dosage may be between three to five mg and when it comes to melatonin underdosing may be better than overdosing. For best results, you should consult your health care provider to find the best melatonin dose and to identify the appropriate timing for supplementation.
3. Shut Out the Blue Light
Contrary to popular belief, blue light isn’t bad for you and is, in fact, essential for a healthy wake-sleep cycle. It is a natural frequency in sunlight that regulates the production of melatonin. However, it does become a problem when you’re exposed to artificial blue light after sunset, as this is when your body should produce melatonin naturally. High exposure to digital screens, LEDs, and fluorescent lighting during these hours suppresses melatonin, making it harder to cope with jet lag. Studies show that using digital screens have an adverse effect on circadian rhythm and daytime alertness the following day, with screen users recording melatonin production that is 55% lower than normal. When you’re traveling, cut back on your screen time a few hours before you should be going to sleep, switching to a book instead. This will make the transition significantly easier.
4. Soak in the Sun
Jet lag is at its worst during the first couple of days, making you want to stay holed up in your hotel room. Unfortunately, this is an urge that you’re just going to have to overcome. Exposure to natural morning sunlight during the first few days of travel can be particularly helpful at overcoming jet lag. If you’re not up for a morning walk or swim, at least make it a point to saunter out onto your balcony as soon as possible when you wake up. If you’re up for it, a morning workout will be even better as it gets your blood flowing and helps regulate hormone levels. You’ll feel better the rest of the day and will adjust to the change in a time zone more easily.
5. Time Your Meals
When you’re on vacation and dealing with annoying jet lag symptoms, adhering to a disciplined routine can be pretty challenging. Besides, eating when you feel like doesn’t seem like that big a deal, right? Sadly, it is. Eating at inappropriate times further confuses your body, signaling that you’re not in the time zone that you actually are. As noted in a recent study, insulin plays an important role in signaling meal times and your meal timing also has a significant impact on jet lag. Food cravings can get severe when your blood sugar levels drop, so glucose tablets or fruit juices can help pacify those feelings and keep you focused. Your diet also matters, so focus on high-quality carbs like fruits and veggies for the first few days, along with some amount of protein. It might also be a good idea to have some protein-rich snacks handy when traveling to keep you satiated and to maintain those energy levels.
While these tips should spare you the worst effects of jet lag, don’t forget to also stay hydrated when traveling and when you’re settling in. Skip the caffeine and alcohol for the first few days at least and you should do just fine. None of these cautions may seem like much fun, but they sure beat having to cope with anxiety and fatigue when you should be enjoying your trip.