Now that we are flying again to far off places, jet lag has reared its unwelcome head. Nobody talks about it, since we are consumed with vaccines, masks, and which countries are open to Americans. It does seem that as I get older, I am more susceptible to jet lag. Also, flying west to east is a bigger issue than east to west. At least it makes European travel better once I return home.
What is jet lag? I like the Mayo Clinic and their explanation. Jet lag occurs because crossing multiple time zones puts your internal clock (circadian rhythms), which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, out of sync with the time in your new locale. And because it takes a few days for your body to adjust, your sleep-wake cycle, along with most other body functions, such as hunger and bowel habits, remains out of step with the rest of your destination.
And sunlight is a factor: A key influence on your internal clock is sunlight. That’s because light influences the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that helps synchronize cells throughout the body. At night, when the light signal is low, the hypothalamus tells the pineal gland, a small organ situated in the brain, to release melatonin. During daylight hours, the opposite occurs, and the pineal gland releases very little melatonin. You may be able to ease your adjustment to your new time zone by exposing yourself to daylight in the new time zone so long as the timing of light is done properly.
I have my own methods to deal with jet lag. First, some jet lag facts, per the Mayo Clinic, for you. My reactions are in (parenthesis).
You may experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Disturbed sleep — such as insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness (always)
- Daytime fatigue (definitely)
- Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level (rarely)
- Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea (rarely)
- A general feeling of not being well (rarely)
- Mood changes (not sure)
And some risk factors:
- Number of time zones crossed. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to be jet-lagged.
- Flying east. You may find it harder to fly east, when you “lose” time, than to fly west, when you gain time.
- Being a frequent flyer. Pilots, flight attendants and business travelers are most likely to experience jet lag.
- Being an older adult. Older adults may need more time to recover from jet lag than do younger adults.
So, how should you deal with or prevent jet lag?
- Arrive early. If you have an important meeting or other event that requires you to be in top form, try to arrive a few days early to give your body a chance to adjust.
- Get plenty of rest before your trip. Starting out sleep-deprived makes jet lag worse.
- Gradually adjust your schedule before you leave. If you’re traveling east, try going to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before your departure. Go to bed one hour later for several nights if you’re flying west. If possible, eat meals closer to the time you’ll be eating them at your destination.
- Regulate bright light exposure. Because light exposure is one of the prime influences on your body’s circadian rhythm, regulating light exposure may help you adjust to your new location.
- Stay on your new schedule. Set your watch to the new time before you leave. Once you reach your destination, try not to sleep until the local nighttime, no matter how tired you are. Try to time your meals with local mealtimes, too.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight to counteract the dehydrating effects of dry cabin air. Dehydration can make jet lag symptoms worse. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these can dehydrate you and affect your sleep.
- Try to sleep on the plane if it’s nighttime at your destination. Earplugs, headphones and eye masks can help block out noise and light. If it’s daytime where you’re going, resist the urge to sleep.
I have my own little routine for long flights to Europe, Asia, or South America.
I try to get plenty of rest before my trip, but it is not always possible.
Most flights leave mid-day from California and arrive the next day.
I generally have my first meal and a glass or two of champagne.
I take advantage of the overnight “darkness” of the flight by sleeping with the help of a low dose prescription sleeping pill.
I either read or watch a terrible movie until I fall asleep. I always take my shoes off and use the airline socks.
I forgot to tell you I am generally seated in First Class since I use miles to upgrade! That is my SECRET to beating jet lag!!!