What is a jetlag?
A jetlag occurs when the body clock is out of synchronization with time due to the crossing of multiple time zones, typically by air travel. The rhythms that dictate times for eating, sleeping, hormone regulation and body temperature still correspond to the time zone of the departure location.
Symptoms are varied and depend on how many time zones are crossed and personal sensitivity to time zone changes. The main symptom is sleep disruption. This will occur almost every time more then 4 time zones are crossed. After flying east it causes not being able to fall asleep at night. After flying west, it causes waking up early in the morning. Multiple awakenings and trouble remaining asleep can also occur. Other possible symptoms include poorer performance on mental tasks and concentration, increased fatigue, headaches, and irritability and digestion problems.
Symptoms typically only occur if you cross 4 time zones or more. It generally takes about 1 day per time zone to fully adjust.
How to avoid a jetlag
There is not a great deal you can do to prevent a jetlag. It is advised to start the adjustment process as soon as possible, during your flight and even a day or two before departure if possible. Before traveling eastward, go to bed early a few nights before departure and a few hours later when traveling westward.
Preventing a jetlag is tough, but you can do quite a lot to speed up your bodies adjustment process upon arrival. There are a lot of theories about how to deal with jetlags, some of which are backed by scientific research. Here is what’s worked for me, in order of importance.
1. Plan your day according to the new time zone
This means going to sleep at a normal time, even if you can’t sleep or if you get really tired early at night. This is really important, if you don’t do this it will take you a lot longer to adjust! Try not to sleep during the day. If you’re really tired and you have something important scheduled, like a business meeting or something, take a short nap but don’t sleep longer then an hour or two.
2. Spend as much time outside as possible
Light is the main stimulus for the body to re-align the sleep-awake schedule so spending time outside during the day will speed up the process a lot. If you have to be inside all day for some reason, go outside every hour for a few minutes if possible.
I’ve found going to the gym quite an effective way to deal with jetlags. After flying west, I go in the evening to prevent myself from falling asleep early in the evening. After eastward travel, I typically go in the morning. It prevents me from sleeping in and it’s a great way to wake myself up. It also causes me to be more tired in the evening making it easier for me to fall asleep.
4. Have an active schedule
The worst thing you can do is hang in your hotel room all day. Force yourself to be active, even when you’re tired. Plan some activities. Go on a little hike, walk around town, so something exiting. This will not only help your body adjust quicker, but it will also help you ‘forget’ about the jetlag.
5. Other things
I’m not sure to what extend these things help, but they won’t hurt either so I’ll mention them. Keep yourself hydrated on the plane, drinking water regularly and staying away from alcohol. Some say eating protein rich food will help. Melotonin supplements are often recommended but side effect could occur. One friend of mine swears that meditating completely eliminates his jetlags. I’m a little skeptical as he also claims it cures hangovers.