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Tips for Jet Lag Prevention

Updated on February 5, 2016

About Jet Lag

If you have spent any time traveling for pleasure or work across different time zones, then you know that with travel comes the risk of experiencing a condition known as “jet lag.” Jet lag is a sleep disorder that may develop when one crosses time zones so rapidly that our circadian clock is unable to keep up pace with the change.

Jet lag is worse for those who travel east and causes many to experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Waking up earlier than scheduled (especially for westward travel)
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Gastrointestinal changes (indigestion and bowel habit changes)
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Poor physical performance

There are a few tips that you can follow to help decrease the risks for experiencing this condition.

Tip #1: Get Your Rest Prior to Travel

Although it's probably easier said than done, one of the most important things you can do is to ensure you get a good night's rest prior to travel. Some experts even recommend getting two consecutive nights of rest to help minimize your risk of traveler's fatigue --particularly when traveling east. If traveling west, you might try altering your bedtime hours if possible by going to bed slightly later as this may help to prepare your body for the new time zone. No matter the direction of travel, the important thing to do is to ensure that you are not sleep deprived as sleep deprivation will only worsen jet lag symptoms.

Tip #2: Hydrate Well

Although many drink alcohol and caffeinated beverages to calm their nerves or to simply relax during the flight, it is highly encouraged that you try to avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages.

Tip #3: Stretch Your Legs

Are you a tense flyer? Chances are due to constricted space and general stress related to travel, your muscles are bunched up during flight. Make sure that you take a few moments to stretch your legs during the flight.

Tip #4: Dress Comfortably

Sometimes if you are traveling for a short business commute, you are required to dress in business casual attire, so this next tip may prove difficult for some, but when possible, dress comfortably. Remember to where lose-fitting clothing that will not constrict blood flow.

Tip #5: Plan Your Arrival Well

What can you do to improve your sleep pattern after travel? There are two recommendations. You should either book your flight so that when you arrive, you can go straight to bed or you should book your travel so that you can get a short cat nap during the afternoon hours. If you are one who finds yourself a bit alert after all of the excitement of travel, a bedtime arrival may not be the best option for you. However, if you are one who can easily collapse into bed after a long flight or extensive day of travel, this may be the option.

For those of you who prefer to indulge in the cat nap, there is something we must be cautious of when taking advantage of the nap. One must be careful not to sleep so long that it impacts your evening slumber but just enough so that you feel a rejuvenated after your travel.

All in all, try to keep your arrival day and time simple so that you are able to rest adequately after traveling.

Manage Jet Lag: Consider taking melatonin to reset your body clock
Manage Jet Lag: Consider taking melatonin to reset your body clock | Source

How to Manage Jet Lag

Should you develop jet lag, there are a few recommendations for management which involves resetting the circadian clock. This can be done through any of the following methods:

  • Exposure to light
  • Melatonin consumption
  • Establishing a sleep schedule
  • Use of medication to induce sleep and combat insomnia
  • Increase alertness

Exposure to Light

Research has shown that staying indoors for the first few hours of daylight after a long journey to the east or even for a few hours prior to dusk after traveling westward may be beneficial. Wearing low-transmittance sunglasses may be a another alternative if one is unable to avoid bright light.

Melatonin Consumption

Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin for approximately 10-12 hours each night. It is basically a signal or response that is indicative that nightfall has arrived. Consumption of melatonin during evening hours can help the body to reset to an earlier time, thus tricking it to believe that nightfall has arrived slightly earlier. If melatonin is consumed in the morning hours, it can also help the body reset to a later hour.

Establishing a Sleep Schedule

Establishing a sleep schedule so that you go to bed at the hour according to the time zone where you are is yet another way to help your body adjust. Once again, adopting the new time zone's schedule prior to travel will help increase your ability to do this.

Increase Alertness

Once you have arrived at your destination and are functioning, there are things that you can naturally do to help improve your alertness and this may include consumption of caffeine or exercise. Consumption of caffeine of course poses some risks. It may interfere with your sleep pattern by exacerbating symptoms of insomnia. For those who are known to be chronic jet lag sufferers, there are medications available that can support alertness.

The good news is that at some point, our circadian clock will reset. According to studies with the use of the daily cycle in core body temperature as an indicator of circadian time, it has been estimated that the circadian clock resets an average of 92 minutes later each day after a westward flight and 57 minutes earlier each day after an eastward flight (source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2010).

© 2014 Mahogany Speaks

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