Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that can occur when you travel across multiple time zones.
1. Jet lag
Its scientific name is called circadian dysrhythmia and it happens because your body’s internal clock — or circadian rhythm — becomes disrupted, causing symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, headaches, irritability, and digestive problems.
“We have a natural rhythm to our bodies, and it’s pretty well set,” said Vivek Jain, Director of the George Washington University’s Center for Sleep Disorders and quoted by the National Geographic.
It is possible, however, to counteract some of the symptoms caused by jet lag to avoid feeling entirely woozy after a long flight. “If you plan for it, you can do most of your acclimatizing to your destination a few days in advance,” advised W. Chris Winter, neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.
2. Useful preparations
Taking into account that everyone’s body reacts differently to travel and that there is no guaranteed way to completely avoid jet lag, some experts have suggested a number of ways for travellers to better deal with the associated symptoms:
- Adjusting the sleep schedule before travelling. If you’re traveling across multiple time zones, try to gradually adjust your sleep schedule a few days before your trip. This will help your body adapt more easily to the new time zone.
- Keep hydrated. Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after a flight helps to prevent dehydration, which can worsen the symptoms of jet lag.
- Getting some sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can help regulate your body’s internal clock, so spend some time outside when you arrive at your destination, if you’re travelling to a sunny destination.
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol. Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep, so it’s best to avoid them during your flight and for a few days after you arrive.
- Taking naps. If you arrive at your destination feeling tired, taking a short nap can help you feel more alert and refreshed. In fact, several strategic naps during the day may be helpful, as long as you do not get carried away — make sure to set up an alarm to wake you up.
- Using melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that can help regulate your sleep cycle. Taking melatonin supplements a few days before your trip and during your flight may help reduce the symptoms of jet lag.
On top of these, experts dealing with sleep issues and the brain’s functioning believe that any traveller about to embark on a long-flight needs to be comfortable. “Basically, anything you can do to get comfortable enough to sleep can have a very strong placebo effect,” says Jamie M. Zeitzer, co-director of Stanford University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences.