Jet lag is a real thing that happens when you cross multiple time zones quickly. It messes with your normal circadian rhythms- sometime referred to as your body clock.
Light and darkness are the main things that affect your circadian rhythms. Your brain receives information from the amount of light you get, making you sleepy by releasing the sleep hormone melatonin.
Other aspects of travel can also make jet lag worse, like sitting on a plane for hours or not drinking enough water.
Symptoms of jet lag
The most common symptom is feely drowsy but you may struggle to fall asleep (depending on whether you ‘gained’ or lost’ hours), or you may come up against headaches, an upset stomach, difficulty to focus or mood swings such as feeling irritable. Other symptoms can also be nausea, changes in appetite and dizziness.
Your body can handle up to 1.5 time zone changes in one day, but crossing 2 or more time zones can leave you with jet lag symptoms. It will resolve itself in time, but there are things you can do to help treat jet lag.
Stick to the new time as best as you can
Try to eat and sleep at normal times. Of course, if you are many time zones away from home you may need to adjust slowly, but stretch yourself so that by 2 or 3 days you’re on schedule again. You’ll find your stomach rumbling at unusual times. If you’ve stayed up all night on a flight then you’ll be hungry because your body will expect to be fed even if you’d normally have been sleeping. If you need a nap, go for it but set an alarm or you may wake up the next day instead of just the 20 minutes you planned.
Get fresh air and sun
Light will let your body know what time it is. In the new time zone, things can feel overwhelming, especially if you are dealing with a new language and culture and it’s using up a lot of energy just getting around. Don’t hide away though, get out in the sun and drink in those vitamins you need to rejuvenate.
If you are feeling drowsy, you could jump start your alertness with some exercise.
Drink water and avoid alcohol
Lots of water will keep you hydrated after a long flight. It can also stave off any jetlag headaches, which are a common side effect of jetlag. Other things can things can make jetlag headaches worse like not drinking enough on the plane, missing caffeine if you’ve missed your morning coffee, or just plain exhaustion. Stay away from alcohol and any other sleep-inducing substances.
If you stop, you might fall asleep. Plan to keep busy especially when it’s your bedtime back home so that you can fight the urge to sleep.
Researchers say going east is harder on your body than west, as you gain time which means you have go to bed early. On the other hand, if you travel west and lose hours then you’ll need to adjust to staying up late. It’s more difficult to advance rather than delay your body clock, which makes sense as most people can stay up late but find it hard to go to bed early. In any case, it could be worth taking a sleeping tablet or melatonin to help you sleep at the right times.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for jet lag. Some people recover in a few days, whereas others take closer to a week. Making healthy choices like the strategies we’ve covered here and managing your schedule can minimise symptoms, but be sure to cut yourself (and others) some slack as you adjust.
I’m an educator and writer living abroad. I love languages, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.