Our body has its own internal clock, or circadian rhythms, that signals when to stay awake and when to sleep but when we have long flights where we cross several time zones, this clock finds it difficult to sync. In this case, our body clock functions in accordance with the original time zone, instead of the time zone where we travelled. As a result, travellers are affected by jet lag that can cause daytime fatigue, an unwell feeling, difficulty in staying alert as well as gastrointestinal problems.
Jet lag refers to a temporary sleep problem, since the body clock will eventually adapt to the new time zone; however, depending on the new schedule, it takes several days to adjust. During the period of adaptation to the new time zone, common symptoms include wanting to eat and sleep at times that are out of step with the local routine, problems with digestion, degraded performance on mental and physical tasks, and mood changes.
Fortunately, there are steps that can help prevent or minimize jet lag. In general, it is easier to adjust while crossing from east to west than from west to east.
Jet lag symptoms
- sleep disturbances, insomnia, lethargy
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or functioning as usual
- Stomach problems; constipation or diarrhea
- A general feeling of not being well
- A heavy, aching head
- Mood changes
- Mild depression
- Loss of appetite
Quick facts about Jet Lag
- Jet lag usually occurs within a day or two of travel if you’ve traveled across at least two time zones.
- For each time zone crossed, it takes about a day to recover from jet lag
- The more time zones that you’ve crossed, the worse jet lag you experience
- Switching into time zones, muscles can feel very sore and potentially lead to cramping
- Traveling Eastward versus Westward can actually determine the types of jet lag symptoms that you are susceptible to
When travel puts body clocks out of synch: 7 tips to beat jet lag
#1 Eliminate noise and light
Earplugs, headphones and eye masks can help
#2 Choose your flight strategically
Select a flight that allows early evening arrival and stay up until 10 p.m. local time
#3 Stay hydrated
Avoid alcohol or caffeine at least three to four hours before bedtime; drink plenty of water
#4 Keep up with new schedule
Change your watch to the destination time zone as soon as you board the plane
#5 Keep active during flight
Do stretching and walk along the aisle
#6 Try to sleep on the plane
Try to sleep when it is night-time at your destination, and sleep for 20 minutes at a time at other times, to reduce sleepiness
#7 Get plenty of rest before
Starting out sleep-deprived can make jet lag worse
If it’s daytime where you’re going, resist the urge to sleep on the plane!
- Avoid heavy meals or strenuous exercise.
- Spend time outdoors preferably in sunlight.
- Sleep at a “normal” time for the destination time zone.