Overcoming Jet Lag

Now that humankind has been flying across time zones for generations, it is easy to forget that our bodies were not designed to travel long distances at high speeds. Dr. Alon Avidan of UCLA’s Sleep Disorders Center calls the result “circadian rhythm disorder”, the rest of us call it jet lag.

Whether you’re traveling across country or across the world, jet lag can take a toll.  It occurs when travel across time zones disrupts your internal body clock, resulting in mental, emotional and physical symptoms such as: daytime sleepiness and lethargy followed by nighttime insomnia, irritability, poor concentration, constipation or diarrhea, headache, nausea, indigestion and dehydration.  The good news is you can avoid or overcome symptoms by following these tips.

One of the ways you can minimize the effects of jet lag is by working with artificially-created light and dark exposure.  Once you’ve reached your destination, try exposing yourself to bright light when you’re supposed to be awake, and darkness when you’re supposed to be asleep.

Here are some additional tips for minimizing the occurrence of jet lag:

  • Adjust your internal clock prior to your trip – stay up later or go to bed earlier depending the time zone changes
  • Opt for overnight flights
  • Curtail caffeine drinks at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Stay hydrated – drink water as much as possible in flight and upon arrival, especially if you are going to a higher altitude. Studies show adequate hydration aids sleep.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol inflight and on your day of arrival
  • Try to sleep on the plane – be sure to take a sleep/eye mask and ear phones/plugs to limit light and noise, neck pillows to  help get you comfortable, a blanket help with body temp
  • Legroom: if your airline has a premium economy section, on long haul flights it’s worth buying up or getting an exit row seat. You won’t be able to lie flat, but if you keep the area beneath your feet clear, you may be able to stretch to a plank position to mimic your sleeping position at home (a good reason to travel light).
  • Dress comfortably – wear loose clothing and easy to remove loose fitting socks and shoes
  • Pick a window seat – you can put a pillow by the window for extra padding
  • Don’t use electronics or watch movies as they stimulate your brain and make sleep more difficult
  • Allow yourself a few hours to adjust when you arrive, make sure your activities that day are low-key

Always check with your doctor if you have health issues that may be affected by long distance travel and be sure to check with your medical professional if you are considering using Melatonin or sleeping pills during your trip.