What is Jet Lag?
Anyone who has taken a long flight is likely to be familiar with the symptoms of jet lag. These include difficulty sleeping, being drowsy and having difficulty concentrating during the day, and excessive tiredness for a couple of days or weeks after landing in a new time zone.
The official name of jet lag, desynchronosis, translates more or less to “being out of sync with time”. This perhaps describes the disorder best. Simply put, your body has gotten used to your sleep habits in the previous time zone, and has not yet caught up to the changes of the new time zone.
For example, if you usually go to bet at 10 pm, you’ll probably start to feel drowsy at about 9 or 9:30. If you fly across the ocean for an international vacation, you will be in a different time zone when you land. 9 pm at home is now, say, 2 am.
Your brain will send signals to your body to be wide awake until 2 am and to remain sleepy until about 10 or 11 am. This can throw a wrench in the works if you have obligations or activities planned for the first couple of days in the new time zone, before you’ve had time to adjust to a new sleep-and-wake schedule.
Jet lag is more likely to affect people who have traveled across more than three time zones, but it can affect anyone who has crossed into a different time zone than the one their body is accustomed to.
How Long Does Jet Lag Last?
Depending on several factors unique to each person and the circumstances of their travel, jet lag can last anywhere from just a couple of days to a few weeks. It usually resolves itself within a few days. Sometimes, people do not experience jet lag at all.
This does not seem to be related to individuals, since the same person might experience very little jet lag for one journey and be exhausted for days after the next. Additionally, at least one study has shown that jet lag tends to be worse when you fly east than when you fly west.
How Can I Avoid Jet Lag?
It would be very difficult to avoid jet lag altogether, but there are certain things you can do to shorten jet lag and reduce the severity of its effects.
- Rest up before you go. Get plenty of sleep before you travel so you’ll be well-rested in case you need to do anything important before your biological rhythms have switched over to the new time zone.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight, and avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible.
- Start the adjustment period on the plane. As soon as you board your flight, set your watch and your phone’s time setting to the time zone of your destination. If it is nighttime at your destination during the flight, do your best to get some sleep. If it’s daytime, try to stay awake.
Though it may be tempting to take a long nap when you reach your destination, the best choice is to stay awake until the time that you would normally go to sleep. Sleeping during the day can complicate and prolong jet lag, causing further “confusion” in your sleep-wake cycle.
Sunlight is a powerful signal to your brain that it is time to be awake. Getting outside under the sun will help immensely with letting your body know that it is daytime. The sunlight effect is even stronger in conjunction with outdoor exercise.
Read also: Optimizing Your Bedroom for a Better Sleep
If you have a great deal of difficulty falling asleep, you may wish to use melatonin or other natural sleep aids as a temporary measure, though sleeping pills are not advised as a long-term solution.
With adequate planning, you should be able to manage jet lag and get about your business in no time. Sometimes, though, your sleep disturbances may point to a more serious problem than jet lag. If you are experiencing prolonged poor sleep quality, contact SleepWell Louisiana to speak with a sleep specialist and to learn more about sleep disorder treatments in Lafayette, LA.