July 29, 2019 | Abby Caviness
If you have ever traveled a long distance, across multiple time zones, odds are you have experienced jet lag. Changing your body’s sleeping and eating schedule so rapidly can have some negative effects on your body and your health. However, while it is nearly impossible to eliminate this sleep disruption on far-away trips, there are some ways you can lessen its effects. To assist you in improving your travel experience, USHEALTH Group® is giving you the run-down on jet lag and what you can do to make adapting easier.*
What is Jet Lag?
According to WebMD, jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that occurs when you travel quickly across multiple time zones.1 In fact, the more time zones you cross, the longer and more intense your symptoms are likely to be. For some, it takes up to one full day for each time zone crossed for their body to adapt to the local time. However, if you are traveling east to west, symptoms could last only half the number of time zones crossed, while traveling west to east often takes longer. This is due to the body “losing time,” which often has a greater effect on the body.
What Causes Jet Lag?
Every person is controlled by a biological clock—known as their circadian rhythm—which helps control when we wake up and fall asleep.1 Your circadian rhythm is regulated by a variety of factors, including light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities. So, when any one of those factors is manipulated, your internal clock is disrupted and desynchronized, causing a sleep disorder.
Additionally, a 2007 study by the New England Journal of Medicine revealed additional factors that aggravate the symptoms. For example, the pressurized air cabins in airplanes cause lower oxygen in the blood, making passengers feel uncomfortable and dehydrated. Because of this, passengers may have trouble falling asleep on planes when trying to adjust to a new time zone.
Risk Factors of Jet Lag
The symptoms can vary based on several aspects of your trip. So, a big part of reducing the effects is knowing some of the factors that can increase its symptoms. For example:2
- Number of time zones crossed
- Flying east
- Being a frequent flyer
- Being an older adult
These factors aggravate the symptoms and can make your vacation less enjoyable. So, what are these symptoms and how bad can they really be? Keep reading to find out!
Jet Lag Symptoms
Besides disturbed sleep—insomnia, waking up too early, or excessive sleepiness—jet lag can cause some additional, undesirable symptoms, including:3
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Feeling slightly disoriented and confused
- Minor gastrointestinal issues, including upset stomach and diarrhea
- Excessive sleepiness
While everyone experiences jet lag differently and their symptoms may vary, these issues can easily get in the way of an enjoyable vacation. So, start preparing now and educate yourself on some ways to prevent and treat these symptoms before it is too late, and they ruin your trip!
Prevention and Treatment
Before you leave
There are two points in which you can take action to ease the effects: before you leave and while you are on your trip. Before you leave, you will work on preventing jet lag. While it is harder to prevent jet lag the further your travel, there are some ways to make the experience at least a bit more enjoyable. These include:4
- Snoozing on the plane
- Selecting flight times strategically
- Taking power naps
- Planning for extra days
- Anticipating the change by gradually adjusting your schedule
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
On the trip
However, if you are already on your trip, did not plan very well, and are feeling the effects of jet lag encroaching on your relaxation, these are a few ways to treat your symptoms:4
- Soak up the sun during prime daylight hours
- Use light therapy to cue your body’s internal clock
- Try melatonin to trigger your body to sleep
- Take sleeping tablets to combat insomnia
- Eat at standard meal times
If you take some of these items and incorporate them into your planning, you might have a better chance of winning the fight against jet lag. In any case, though you may still feel the effects, they may not hit you full-force like they would have if you had not planned ahead.
Jet lag is just a part of traveling long distances, and the better you prepare for it, the smoother your vacation will go and the healthier you will be. The symptoms, if not properly treated, can take a toll on your health and make you miserable, so make sure you take care of yourself and your family by following some of these tips!
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- Peri, Camille, “How to Cope With Jet Lag,” WebMD.com, last modified January 19, 2010, https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/jet-lag-remedies#1
- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Jet lag disorder,” MayoClinic.org, published September 11, 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027
- Holland, Kimberly, “What Causes Jet Lag and What Can You Do to Manage and Prevent the Symptoms?” Healthline.com, last modified August 22, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/jet-lag#treatment
- Nordqvist, Christian, “Jet lag: What it is and how to beat it,” last modified December 20, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165339.php