Flying soon? Here’s How to Avoid Jet Lag Using 1 Simple Trick

Jet lag is an unfortunate side effect of long-haul travel, leaving many travellers grappling with symptoms such as fatigue, disrupted sleep, and difficulty concentrating. Imagine battling fatigue, insomnia, and a wonky stomach as you cross multiple time zones. This phenomenon concerns frequent flyers, particularly business travellers, who must maintain peak performance despite changing time zones.

What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag, also known as desynchronosis, is a physiological condition that results from alterations to the body’s internal clock due to rapid long-distance trans-meridian travel.

Desynchronosis is simply the desynchronization of one’s body clock with the rest of the world. It has two forms: jet lag and shift lag,” James Albright says. It’s essentially a disruption of your body’s circadian rhythm – the internal biological clock that regulates various physiological processes. This clock operates on a 24-hour schedule and influences sleep-wake cycles, hormone secretion, digestion, and mood. The key to understanding how to avoid jet lag lies in comprehending these processes.

When you travel across multiple time zones, your circadian rhythm can’t immediately adjust to the new schedule, resulting in disorientation and a range of physical and mental effects – the symptoms we typically associate with jet lag.

Symptoms of Jet Lag

When you’re wrestling with jet lag, many symptoms can appear; some are rather common, while others can be severe. Understanding these symptoms can provide insight on how to avoid jet lag:

  1. Sleeping Problems

This includes insomnia, early waking, or excessive sleepiness. Sleep disruptions can be due to the misalignment between your body clock and the local time at your destination.

  1. Daytime Sleepiness

A feeling of being tired during the day. It directly disrupts your sleep cycle and the mismatch between your internal clock and the local time.

  1. Impaired Thinking

Difficulty with memory, concentration, and performance. Jet lag can cause cognitive impairment, affecting your ability to perform mental tasks.

  1. Hampered Physical Function

General feeling of physical discomfort or illness. You might experience a significant reduction in physical performance and endurance.

  1. Emotional Difficulties

Irritability, mild depression, and anxiety. Disrupting your circadian rhythm can also impact your mood and mental health.

  1. General Malaise

Feeling unwell or out of sorts. This feeling of unease may be due to the overall impact of jet lag on your body.

  1. Stomach Problems

Diarrhoea, constipation, and other digestive problems. Disrupting your body clock can also affect your digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal issues.

  1. Sleep Paralysis and Seizures

Rare but serious symptoms that can occur. Severe cases of jet lag may lead to serious sleep disorders such as sleep paralysis and even seizures.

“The symptoms of jet lag result from two things: the sleep deprivation and fatigue that come with long stints in a cramped seat, and the misalignment of your body clock with the local time zone,” says physician Vivek Jain, medical director of the George Washington University Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders. Jet lag persists for 1 to 1.5 days for each time zone crossed. Knowledge of this can be beneficial in your quest to figure out how to avoid jet lag.

Causes of Jet Lag

Jet lag is primarily caused by rapid travel across multiple time zones, but several factors can influence the severity and duration. Understanding these causes is pivotal when learning how to avoid jet lag:

  1. Plane Travel Across Three or More Time Zones

The more time zones crossed, the more severe the jet lag can be. It is due to the greater disruption to your circadian rhythm.

  1. Direction of Travel

Jet lag tends to be worse when travelling east than west, as delaying our internal clock is generally easier than advancing it. Because our natural circadian rhythm is slightly longer than 24 hours, “adding” time by travelling westward is less disruptive.

  1. Trip Details

The duration and nature of the trip can influence jet lag severity. For example, frequent short or long-haul flights can intensify jet lag symptoms.

  1. Arrival Time

Arriving at night may exacerbate jet lag. The sudden exposure to light during the local nighttime can delay adjustment to the new time zone.

  1. Age

Older adults may take longer to recover from jet lag. It is likely due to changes in the circadian rhythm and sleep patterns with age.

  1. Sleep Before Travel

Lack of sleep before the journey can worsen jet lag. Adequate sleep before travel can help your body better cope with the changes in time zones.

  1. Stress

High-stress levels can exacerbate symptoms. Stress can interfere with sleep and disturb your body’s ability to adjust to new time zones.

  1. Use of Alcohol and Caffeine

Both can interfere with normal sleep patterns. They can also dehydrate you, which may intensify the symptoms of jet lag.

  1. History of Jet Lag

Those who have experienced it may be more prone to it. It might be due to individual differences in the ability to adjust to changes in time zones.

  1. Individual Variation

Each body responds differently to rapid changes in time zones. Health status, personal habits, and genetic factors may play a role.

The Trick to Avoiding Jet Lag

Our bodies operate on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, hormone production, and other physiological processes. The circadian rhythm is largely controlled by light and darkness; exposure to light signals to our brain that it’s time to wake up and start the day, while darkness signals that it’s time to sleep. However, when you travel across multiple time zones quickly, this rhythm gets out of sync with the local time, resulting in jet lag. 

Jet lag occurs when our internal clock is out of sync with the outside world. According to Rafael Pelayo, MD, the anticipation of changes in our biology and circadian clock fail to align correctly, leading to the various symptoms of jet lag.

Influence of Light Exposure on Circadian Rhythm

“When light hits our eyes, it sends cues to that region of the brain that it’s daytime, while the absence of light signals nighttime,” says Rafael Pelayo, MD, a sleep medicine specialist and clinical professor at Stanford University. “Jet lag happens when your internal clock is out of sync with the outside world. The hormones anticipating changes in your biology and the clock are not lining up correctly.”

Passengers were exposed to more light at the beginning of the flight, followed by darkness for the last 10 hours, to optimise the effects of light exposure. However, as Mickey Beyer-Clausen, co-founder and CEO of Timeshifter, points out, individual variations in sleep-wake cycles, or chronotypes, mean that a one-size-fits-all approach may not work for everyone. For this reason, tools like Timeshifter allow users to input their flight itinerary and sleep habits, providing personalised recommendations on when to seek light, avoid light, and even when to avoid caffeine.

Ultimately, the goal isn’t simply to force sleep at the right times, but to shift the circadian clock to the new time zone, allowing you to naturally adjust to the local sleep-wake schedule. As Beyer-Clausen puts it, “The focus should be on shifting the circadian clock to the new time zone so that you’re sleeping naturally faster and get alert and awake in the morning faster.”

Practical Tips for Reducing Jet Lag

Long-distance travel can be a thrilling adventure, but the experience of jet lag can quickly dampen the excitement. Here’s how to avoid jet lag and make the most of your travels.

Before Travelling

  • Schedule the First Days of your Trip

Consider planning a lighter schedule for the first few days of your trip. This is a practical way on how to avoid jet lag. It gives your body time to adjust to the new time zone and recover from the journey.

  • Minimise Travel Stress

High-stress levels can exacerbate the symptoms of jet lag. Try to organise your travel details well in advance to minimise last-minute stress and anxiety. Reducing stress is another efficient strategy on how to avoid jet lag.

  • Get Quality Sleep

Ensure you are well-rested before your flight. Lack of sleep can make jet lag worse. Try to get a good night’s sleep before you travel. Proper rest is a vital factor in how to avoid jet lag.

  • Gradually Adjust your Schedule

Begin shifting your sleeping and eating schedule to match the destination’s time zone a few days before departure. It can help to minimise the shock to your system and reduce the severity of jet lag. Adapting to a new schedule ahead of time is an effective method on how to avoid jet lag.

During Flight

  • Stay Hydrated

Aeroplane cabins can be very dry, which can lead to dehydration. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to help prevent this. Staying hydrated is crucial in understanding how to avoid jet lag.

  • Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Both alcohol and caffeine can disrupt your sleep pattern and exacerbate jet lag symptoms. Try to limit your intake during your flight. Minimising alcohol and caffeine consumption is another way on how to avoid jet lag.

  • Eat Smart

Avoid heavy meals during your flight. Opt for light, nutritious food options that are easy to digest. Eating smart is an essential part of learning how to avoid jet lag.

  • Adjust your Watch

As soon as you board, set your watch to your destination’s time zone. It can help your mind and body adjust to the new routine. Adjusting your watch is a significant step on how to avoid jet lag.

After Arrival

  • Exercise

Physical activity can help reset your circadian rhythm. Try to exercise in daylight hours to help your body adjust to the new time zone. Exercising after arrival is an effective method on how to avoid jet lag.

  • Nap with Caution

While a short nap can help you get through the day, try not to oversleep during the day, as this can make it harder to sleep at night and prolong jet lag. Napping is a helpful tip on how to avoid jet lag.

  • Seek out Natural Light

Exposure to natural light can help reset your body’s internal clock. Spend time outside during daylight hours and keep your accommodation brightly lit. Seeking natural light is an important strategy on how to avoid jet lag.

  • Stay on the Local Schedule

Try to eat, sleep, and be active according to the local schedule as soon as possible. It can help your body adjust more quickly to the new time zone. Sticking to the local schedule is the final tip on how to avoid jet lag.

Does Food and Exercise Help with Jet Lag?

Apart from light exposure, certain lifestyle adjustments such as diet and exercise can play a significant role in managing jet lag. Timing meals according to your destination time zone can aid in adjusting your body’s internal clock. It is a great example of how to avoid jet lag. 

“Eating on local time can help to reset the circadian rhythm,” says Rafael Pelayo, MD. In addition to timing your meals, choosing nutritious, well-balanced meals can promote overall well-being, making it easier for your body to adapt to a new time zone. It shows the role of a healthy diet in how to avoid jet lag. 

When Does It Make Sense to Use a Sleep Aid?

A sleep aid can sometimes help manage jet lag, especially during long-haul flights, pointing to another method on how to avoid jet lag. Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the body in response to darkness, can be taken as a supplement to adjust the body’s internal clock. “Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M. says. It is especially beneficial when travelling eastward or crossing five or more time zones, adding another strategy on how to avoid jet lag.

However, sleep aids should not be the first line of defence against jet lag and should be used sparingly. “Sleep aids can be useful in certain circumstances, but they are not a substitute for allowing the body to adjust naturally to a new time zone,” warns Rafael Pelayo, MD. 

Overcoming the Traveller’s Challenge

Jet lag can significantly impact the enjoyment and productivity of your travels, but it’s not an inevitable part of crossing time zones. The trick to avoiding jet lag lies in understanding and aligning with your body’s natural rhythms. 

Remember these insights the next time you’re gearing up for a long-haul flight; they can be key to learning how to avoid jet lag. With a little preparation and strategic adjustments, you can land feeling refreshed, alert, and ready to embrace the rhythm of your new time zone.