Simple prep can prevent jet lag

Jet lag is a physiological condition caused by a mismatch of your “body clock,” a small cluster of brain cells that controls the timing of biological functions, including when you eat and sleep, and the time of day and night in your new time zone. Your internal clock is biologically referred to as your circadian rhythms and literally means “approximately one day.” It is harmonized by the regular rhythm of daylight and darkness, so it’s thrown out of sync when it experiences daylight and darkness at the “wrong” times when you travel to a new time zone. A successful time zone shift depends on knowing the exact times to seek and avoid bright light.
Exposure to light at the wrong time can make jet lag worse and make the transition to the new time zone more challenging. To find the proper schedule for light exposure requires a great deal of understanding of your specific travel plans. Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle pace that most of us keep, it is not practical to acclimate our body clock before traveling. Heading east is a much more disruptive transition than traveling west, and if more than three time zones are traveled, signs of jet lag are exacerbated and increase the recuperation time required.
Symptoms of jet lag often persist for days as the internal body clock slowly adjusts to the new time zone. They can include insomnia, general malaise, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress and impaired performance. For eastbound travelers, difficulty falling asleep can be challenging, and for westbound travel, staying asleep can be the biggest issue. Both come with their own set of consequences.
Typically, for eastbound travelers, it takes one hour per day for every time zone traveled to recover. Westbound travelers receive a little break; our bodies recover over 1.5 to two hours for every time zone crossed, so it’s a quicker adjustment.
Personal variables are important too; if you’re a “night owl” you’ll typically need a different schedule to a “lark.” But there are no significant studies that differentiate who is more affected, men or women, and there is conflicting information about young vs. old.
There are many ways to combat jet lag, but here are some practical options that do not require changing your body clock prior to your trip, although slowly changing your circadian rhythm before your travel begins is the best way to minimize symptoms.
If your travel is for less than two days, it is best to remain on your home schedule and go to bed either a few hours earlier or later than normal, as if you were staying up late to study or getting up earlier than normal for an important meeting. It is best to try and adapt to the new time zone if you plan to remain at your destination for more than two days.
Some general tips for decreasing the severity of the symptoms include getting a good night’s sleep prior to your flight. Don’t stay up all night packing and log only a few hours sleep — get your eight hours! Avoiding alcohol and caffeine during the flight is also important, as is maintaining hydration. Eating on the plane can actually worsen the symptoms of jet lag because most airline food services comes at times that mimic your home body clock schedule.
Another option for eastbound travelers is to take 3 to 5 mg of immediate release formula melatonin 30 minutes prior to your new time zone bedtime. It will help to regulate your body’s natural melatonin production.
Exposure to light plays a huge role in the body’s ability to handle time zone changes, and thus, the resetting of your body clock. It is important to try and regulate your exposure to bright light and that comes mostly in the form of scheduling your flight. For eastern travel, the best time to arrive somewhere is midday when afternoon light exposure is best. Avoid morning sun, which nearly always translates into staying away from eastbound “red eye” flights. That is, unless you are planning only to stay for a few days and have a first day of rest before your meeting or activity. For western travel, morning sun is best and evening light should be avoided, so plan your trip west to maximize a.m. sun as much as possible.
The best medicine for jet lag is to allow your body the time it needs to adjust if your travel plans allow. Try not to schedule too much on your first day or two if possible. Strive to eat and sleep as close to a “regular” schedule as you can in the new time zone, even though having dinner may be more like having breakfast, depending on where your travels take you.
Jet lag is a real, so thinking about it and planning for it before your trip is the best way to manage it.

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