Jet lag is more than just being tired from travelling. Technically called circadian dysrhythmia, jet lag is a disruption of the body’s intricate biological inner-sleep cycle caused by crossing multiple time zones quickly. It occurs when the clock on the wall at your destination indicates a time far different from your internal body clock, which is still back home on its original time schedule. You are out of sync with your environment, and that has ramifications for your alertness and feelings of wellbeing.
What factors influence your susceptibility to jet lag?
Number of time zones crossed: Jet lag starts to be noticeable when you cross more than three-time zones. The greater the number of time zones crossed, the greater the severity of jet lag symptoms.
Direction of flight: The direction of your flight matters greatly. When you fly eastbound, or against the direction of the sun, jet lag tends to be more severe than when you fly west. You can take 50 per cent longer to recover from jet lag after an eastward flight than after a westward flight of the same distance. When flying westward, you are allowing your body to follow its natural inclination to extend the day.
Age: The older you get, the more you are likely to experience the debilitating effects of jet lag. Babies under age three seem unaffected, children adapt better than their parents, and the elderly seem to have the most trouble.
Sleep debt: The amount of sleep debt you are carrying can affect your susceptibility to jet lag. In general, the better rested you are, the better you’ll fare when faced with jet lag.
Personality characteristics: Sensitivity seems to be linked to certain personality characteristics:
- If you are extroverted, easygoing, and enjoy the company of others for travel or meals, etc., you are likely to suffer less from jet lag.
- If you exercise regularly and are in good health, jet lag’s effects are likely to be lessened.
- If you’re regimented in your living habits (rising, eating, going to bed at the same hour each day), you may suffer less from jet lag than if your schedule is more irregular.
How to combat jet lag?
The following tips, compiled by a host of travelers and researchers, will help ease the stress and fatigue from any lengthy air travel, and should moderate the biological clock-resetting process necessary to counter jet lag.
Before and during your flight
- Reduce sleep debt before travelling. At least 4-5 days before travelling, ensure you get your personal sleep quotient so you will be well rested and not feeling exhausted before flying.
- As soon as you sit down on your flight, change your watch to the time at your destination and begin living by that time—acclimatizing yourself to that time zone.
- Drink lots of water to counter dehydration from the dry air cabin atmosphere. Dehydration can retard the process of re-synchronizing your biological clock with destination time.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol will disrupt REM sleep and interferes with your body’s ability to process oxygen.
- Move and stretch at regular intervals to improve blood circulation.
- While airborne, eat and sleep according to your new schedule, not the airlines-imposed schedule. Even though it’s still daytime outside the plane, if it’s nighttime at your destination, forget the movie and meals and get some sleep. Covering yourself with a blanket helps keep you comfortable as your body temperature drops from inactivity and sleep.
- Take a short nap (20 minutes) before arrival at your destination if you need to work straight away.
- If flying eastward and you arrive early morning, try to get outside in the sunlight as soon as possible. Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock and staying indoors actually worsens jet lag.
- Getting some low-intensity exercise, even a brisk walk, after a long flight will raise your endorphin levels. This in turn will reduce stiffness and pain, relax your muscles, help suppress your appetite, and create feelings of optimism and happiness.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Serve others. And do what is right, not what is easy!