Dealing with Jet Lag

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If you are looking to travel across more than two time zones, the changes in the amount of light to which you are exposed will have consequences on your body’s regulatory systems and biological clock. These consequences are collectively known as jet lag, a common affliction amongst travellers in the world today. The condition can make the first few days of your trip tiring at the very least, and many people who have spent time and energy investing in a holiday or business trip would rather not have those first few days wasted. In this article we look at coping strategies you can employ to help you deal with the effects of jet lag.

Coping strategies for jet lag

There are a range of different techniques you can employ to help adjust to jet lag, and some of them may require a little bit of perseverance on your part. Sticking to these methods can, however, help you overcome the symptoms of jet lag, which will typically include disrupted sleep, tiredness (fatigue), cognitive difficulties in concentration, and digestive issues.

It may be tempting to fall back on caffeine to help you cope with the fatigue of jet lag, but while caffeinated beverages may be invaluable to us on a day to day basis, they can actually worsen your jet lag. The condition itself is a result of changes in  your body chemistry, more specifically, your hormone levels which dictate wakefulness and sleepiness based on a chemical body clock. Introducing substances like caffeine which affect your biochemistry even further can lengthen jet lag or worsen its symptoms. Caffeine may provide some temporary wakefulness, but will most probably disrupt your sleep even further, and in many cases cause dehydration, which can further worsen your symptoms.

This takes us on to another simple but effective coping mechanism: hydration. Airplanes are typically dry environments which can easily cause dehydration, and when your body is adjusting to changes in its own rhythms, good hydration is important in helping with the transition and in helping you feel better in terms of your energy levels and overall well-being. People who are well hydrated are often far more able to cope with the changes involved in jet lag.

Similarly good nutrition can also help your body adjust to the changes involved in jet lag. Healthy nutrition involves sensible portions made up of foods rich in the various materials your body needs to function effectively, and there is a wealth of information on the internet and amongst other sources which can provide further insight into what nutrition your body needs. Remember that overeating or under eating both have far reaching effects on hormone levels as well, which won’t do your body any favours when it is coping with jet lag. Excessive carbohydrates and fatty foods close to bed time are known to disrupt your sleeping patterns.

The risk of dehydration is one of the reasons why alcohol should be avoided during your jet lag. Alcohol is, in essence, a toxic substance which can quickly deprive your body and brain of much needed water, and this dehydration can compound other disruptive effects of the substance. Alcohol is a neurological depressant, and in ways not hugely dissimilar to the effects of caffeine, taking alcohol can further disrupt your sleep patterns and body’s ability to adjust to its new environment.

As a rule of thumb, unless advised by your doctor or by medical necessity, taking unnecessary chemicals, be they stimulants like caffeine or depressants like alcohol, should be avoided. They may be tempting as tools with which to alleviate some of the symptoms of jet lag, but should be avoided because they can exacerbate your jet lag in the long run.

Adjusting to your destination’s routine and schedule upon arrival is also an important coping mechanism, if one that can be difficult to employ. If you arrive at noon at your destination, you should carry on with the day as normal, even if your arrival time corresponds to your usual sleeping hours back home. This can be difficult because of the fatigue involved, but it is an important step to take to combat jet lag. Similarly if you arrive at night, even if it is the middle of the day back home and according to your biological clock, you should try and get some sleep.

Movement is actually a very useful coping strategy when you need to stay awake at your destination, even if you feel too fatigued to do much. This can be something as simple as walking around on occasion (which is also advisable during your flight) or something more complicated like performing an exercise routine.

Natural light therapy is an option that may offer some success as well. Many commercial natural light lamps and sources can be used to help readjust your natural rhythms, which depend on exposure to sunlight replicated by these devices. It is important to follow the instructions provided carefully when using these tools however as you will need to expose yourself to this ‘natural’ light in specific ways when travelling in particular directions to achieve a good effect. This is because when you are travelling east to west your exposure to light will be different to when you are travelling west to east, and you will need to use your light box accordingly.

It may also be advisable that you speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist prior to using these light boxes, however when used correctly, they are extremely useful tools.

Other simple steps you can take involve using a hot bath to help you relax when you need to sleep. A hot bath will ease tension from your muscles, helping you to relax in the way you need to for adequate sleep and rest.  Similarly making sure that your hotel room or wherever you are staying is dark and quiet to help you get the sleep you need.

Some of these strategies may prove more effective than others, and the only way to really find out what works and what doesn’t is to try them whilst travelling. If you are a frequent flier it won’t be long before you work out which ones suit you best, but in most cases these techniques will benefit virtually everyone.

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