Are you preparing for a vacation and traveling by plane? There are ways to shield your body against jet lag and overcome it, reducing the symptoms that can ruin your vacation.
Why do we get jet lag?
Jet lag occurs when we travel by plane and change two or more time zones, this disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. The symptoms are a result of the circadian rhythm being detuned. The circadian rhythm is the pattern that our body follows within a 24-hour period. This rhythm essentially determines when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. It also affects other functions in the body, such as hormone synthesis, digestion and body temperature.
Our body regulates these rhythms, with the guidance of the brain. But of course there are external factors (such as light) that affect these rhythms. For example, when light enters the eyes, a message is sent to the brain to stop producing melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone).
Air travel makes jet lag even worse because the body is moving much faster than the brain, which needs time to understand the time changes. Jet lag means the body is out of sync with the day and night of our destination. Our body has the ability to adapt to environmental changes, but it takes time. In general, the evidence shows that when we fly to the east the jet lag is more intense than when we fly to the west. This is because the body can adjust more quickly to going to bed later than going to bed earlier.
Other factors that contribute to jet lag are:
- when we sit for long hours on the plane
- the lack of oxygen and reduced air pressure in the airplane cabin
- the increased temperature in the cabin and low humidity, which can cause dehydration
How to tell if you have jet lag: the symptoms
Jet lag occurs when you travel by plane to different time zones. Some biological rhythms such as sleep-wake and the human growth hormone secretion adjust almost immediately to local time, while others, such as body temperature, cortisol secretion, and the ability to sleep adjust gradually and much later.
The most common symptoms of jet lag are:
- Decreased concentration
- Reduced performance
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Decreased appetite
- Night vision disorder and limited peripheral vision.
Jet lag affects each person differently. In general, the symptoms are more severe when one travels long distances. This is because longer distances require the body to adapt more. If the journey lasts many hours, then it may be difficult for one to sleep as the body adjusts to the new time zone.
The duration of jet lag depends on many factors. These include how far we travel, our circadian rhythm and our overall health. Many people who have symptoms of jet lag feel better within a few days of arriving at their destination. For some people, it can take a week to feel like themselves again.
How to overcome jet lag
1. Set your watch
Set your watch to the time of the country you are visiting as soon as you get on the plane. This is a psychological trick that will help the brain adapt to new data more easily. Remember that the body uses three parameters to set your biological clock: daylight, eating times and sleeping times.
2. Sleep on the plane
Whether or not you will sleep during the flight depends on whether the flight is during the day or at night and whether you are traveling east or west. If you want to sleep during the flight, prefer to do it when it will be night at your destination, even if that means it will be noon at your local time. In this way you prepare your body to enter a new rhythm.
To sleep on the plane, an eye mask and earplugs are essential. A few drops of lavender oil can also help you relax.
If you fly east you will fall asleep earlier than usual. If you don’t sleep on the plane, you will be quite tired upon arrival and will be reasonably sleepy at bedtime.
3. Make the right food choices
Rich meals can cause sleep problems and upset your stomach. Therefore, it is good to eat lightly. When you get to your destination, protein will help you stay awake: smoked salmon with scrambled eggs is a perfect breakfast, while carbs will help you sleep (so choose a pasta meal three hours before bed).
4. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and too much caffeine to compensate for dry airplane water, which increases the chances of dehydration.
5. Move to the new time zone
Don’t be tempted to keep calculating what time it is in your home country. When you arrive and it’s daytime don’t be tempted to rest the first day. Avoid sleeping, even if you feel tired. Keep yourself busy, but not too busy. Daylight helps reset the body’s biological clock. In general, remember that with large time differences it is good to stay awake and sleep at the usual bedtime in your new destination.
6. Get out in the sun
Light helps the body recognize that it’s time to wake up. Artificial light (light bulbs emit) have the same benefits as natural light if you can’t go outside.
Take a walk upon arrival to beat sleepiness.
8.Drink cherry juice!
Cherries regulate the body’s biological clock, as they are a natural source of melatonin. Two servings of cherries or cherry juice a day will help your body recover from jet lag.
9. Take melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the human body that plays an important role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Taking a melatonin supplement 20 minutes before going to bed can help reduce jet lag symptoms.