What is Jet Lag?
If you’ve traveled by plane before, you may have experienced jet lag, a temporary sleep disorder that can affect anyone. Jet lag shows up when the body’s circadian rhythm is thrown off with the shift to a new time zone and is more likely to occur when you have traveled across three or more time zones. Perhaps you have heard the phrase “west is best, east is a beast” which came about because jet lag tends to be more intense as you travel east and are exposed to less sunlight. Light exposure and altered eating times greatly influence jet lag.
Common Symptoms of Jet Lag:
- Overall difficulty with sleep – like insomnia, waking up too early, or excessive sleepiness
- Overwhelming fatigue during the day
- Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level – thinking in general can be imparied
- Trouble with bowel movements – reduced appetite, constipation, etc.
- A general feeling of unease – nausea is common
- Mood swings – evidence has shown that mental health issues can be heightened and irritability in general is typical
People who experience the symptoms listed above will deal with jet lag right away or within the first few days of arriving at their destination. It’s not uncommon for people to have a good night’s sleep the first night, but then struggle with sleep for the next few nights. The duration of jet lag depends on the individual and the specific circumstances, but can last anywhere from one day to more than two weeks.
Tips to Reduce Insomnia related to Jet Lag:
Knowing how to handle the discord between your body and a new time zone can make traveling much less stressful in general. So, before your next flight to a different time zone, consider these tips:
- Try to take an overnight flight – this way, you’ll have more hours of sunlight upon landing.
- Hydrate well before flying and during the flight
- Dehydration has been known to amplify the symptoms of jet lag.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol 12 hours before your trip and while flying
- Both of these can contribute to wakefulness, anxiety, and even panic if you’re someone who is uncomfortable with flying.
- Get outside once you land – get as much sunlight as you can. Light is the most powerful ally you have for balancing your circadian rhythm.
- Consider using a light box or another form of light therapy as a supplement.
- Change your watch/phone to the new time immediately to solidify your schedule and normalize the shift.
- Avoid sleeping pills
- If you must take them, only take a low dose at the beginning of the flight
- Melatonin is a more natural option to consider since it’s a hormone that the body produces to help make you feel sleepy and govern your circadian rhythm.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep before you travel to avoid worsening the effects of the time-zone shift. Plan ahead to avoid staying up all night to pack, prepare or tie up loose ends.
- If possible, begin shifting your sleep times and meals forward or backward an hour per night several days before you fly or even a full week before your flight in order to be more in line with the new time zone.
- Don’t nap if you can help it once you arrive or return from a trip. Do your best to adjust to the local time so that at night, you sleep well.
- Adjust your meals to the new time zone as soon as possible to help your body and brain sync to the new time.
If you continue to have insomnia for a prolonged amount of time consider these two resources: