Merriam-Webster defines jet lag as “a tired or unpleasant feeling you sometimes get when you travel by airplane to a place that is far away.” Jet lag, is indeed, a very real experience and is now considered a temporary sleep disorder.
Causes of Jet Lag
Since commercial airline travel has been in existence for less than 60 years jet lag is a relatively new disorder. Factors such as business travel needs and a more mobile society have increased air travel significantly. Competition and various reward programs have also made air travel affordable for the middle class.
Below are some of the specific causes of jet lag.
Traveling Through Two or More Time Zones | The longer your flight, the more likely you are to experience jet lag. This is especially true if you are flying through time zones or east to west or west to east. Adding layovers to the mix may contribute to the disorder.
Disturbance of Circadian Rhythms | If you leave New York at 9 AM and you get to Los Angeles in four hours you actually arrive at 10 AM. Initially losing only an hour of time may sound desirable until you start dozing off at your afternoon meeting. Traveling from time-zone to time-zone can adversely affect our circadian rhythms or the way we live our lives.
Pressurized Cabins | Pressurized cabins are a haven for germs and they also impact the oxygen levels in your blood and your blood’s circulation. You may have noticed how swollen your feet are after a long flight. This is due to the pressure interfering with your normal blood flow.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Inexperienced travelers may find it difficult to pinpoint or define their jet lag symptoms. Sometimes it’s just a feeling of being “off.” Below are several recognizable signs that indicate you may be suffering from jet lag:
Sleep Disturbances | Going to bed significantly earlier or later than usual can cause middle of the night awakenings or oversleeping.
Daytime Fatigue | Poor sleep at night causes daytime fatigue. If you have a busy schedule during the day and can’t grab a nap, it can be tough to get out of this cycle.
Brain Fog | If you don’t get enough sleep you will most likely have problems focusing and other cognitive difficulties.
Dehydration | You may feel thirstier than usual if you are experiencing jet lag.
Digestion Problems | Sharing two or three tiny bathrooms with hundreds of people for eight hours or more is sure to cause digestion problems. Couple that with airplane food, lack of sleep, and a new environment and you’re bound to experience constipation, diarrhea, or worse.
Complications of Jet Lag
Severe Dehydration | Most people recover from dehydration pretty quickly. However, if dehydration is not treated it could become serious. Some of the symptoms of severe dehydration include intense thirst, dry skin, headaches, fatigue, and confusion caused by an imbalance in electrolytes.
Blood Clots | Blood clots or deep vein thrombosis are caused by long periods of immobility. You are 2-4 times more likely to get a blood clot on a flight longer than six hours than a shorter flight. Blood clots are a severe condition and can even be fatal.
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How to Avoid Jet Lag
Jet lag can be avoided or at least minimized. Consider the tips below to help keep your jet lag under control:
Adjust bedtime several days before trip | Try altering your bedtime a half an hour at a time a week or so before you go on your trip. If you are traveling east, you will want to go to bed a half an hour earlier each night. Traveling west would require you to go to bed a half an hour later progressively.
Change your time devices on the plane | Adjusting the time on your watch and phone is a psychological tactic, but it can help you mentally prepare for your new time zone.
Stay hydrated | They don’t offer you extra water on a long flight for nothing. Don’t miss an opportunity to drink water and try to get a bottle of Smart Water or something with electrolytes before the flight. If you are feeling thirsty, you are more than likely already dehydrated. Alert a flight attendant that you need some water.
Move around | The more water you drink, the more you will need to visit the restroom, which is a good thing! Book an aisle seat on a long flight so you can get up minimally every two hours to stretch and walk around for 10 minutes.
Adjust diet before the trip | Many believe it is wise to eat a little heavier for a couple of days before your trip and fast the day of the flight, keeping in mind to drink plenty of water. It is also a good idea to take a probiotic to curtail digestion woes and illness as well.
Treatments for Overcoming Jet Lag
Natural Light therapy | Exposure to natural light can help your circadian rhythms adjust. If you are traveling west, you will want to make use of the morning sun and avoid the afternoon sunlight. Just the opposite is true if you are going east, avoid the morning and get your rays in the afternoon.
Melatonin | Melatonin is a natural supplement to help with sleep disturbances.
Bedtime routine | Make sure your bedtime routine is a relaxing one. Take a hot bath and read a good book instead of watching violent television.
Medication | If you are a frequent flyer and still have problems with jet lag, ask your doctor about prescription medication.
In any event, if your schedule allows, it’s a good idea to arrive a day early when traveling through time zones. This can help you be your best for work or play on your trip and it’s a great way for overcoming jet lag!