Jet lag refers to extreme tiredness combined with several other undesirable physical effects as a result of long-distance travel. Some of these effects can include mild nausea or ongoing sleepiness during daylight hours. This can be very inconvenient, whether you are a business or leisure traveler. If you have suffered from jet lag, you’ll recognize the symptoms. People who regularly take extended flights across two or more time zones are prone to experiencing it. Airplane crew as well as passengers can be subject to the adverse consequences, hence there is a great deal of interest in minimizing and eradicating the problem.
Why does jet lag happen?
Your natural body clock is attuned to sunrise and sunset, though nowadays most people extend their waking hours well beyond periods of daylight. The circadian rhythm cycle (or your body clock) tells you when it’s time to sleep and eat, and regulates other physiological functions. The environmental elements that impact on the cycle include temperature and sunlight. Jet lag is one result of a disruption to this cycle, when the instructions you get from your body as to when to eat and sleep are disturbed. There are other health effects when your circadian rhythm suffers from ongoing interference, such as bipolar disorder and depression; however, neither of these are related to jet lag.
What can you do about it?
There are a number of strategies employed by long-haul passengers and crew that have gained attention. For example, one of the most well-known is manipulating your eating times en route to match those of your destination. This has been hailed as a useful practical change to make. In addition, many experts suggest eating light while you’re on board, the better to fit in with new mealtimes on arrival.
Flight attendants are experts on steps to take that help them deal with the problem of jet lag. Besides matching mealtimes to their destination, they also often shift their sleeping patterns, taking short naps after flights rather than sleeping for a long period of time. This avoids the awful experience of realizing that you’re living your life completely out of kilter – awake throughout the night and asleep all day. Some of them begin to shift their body clock to the time zone of their destination a few days before they leave. If you have the time to do this, a gradual change in your bedtime may be of great help when you arrive at your destination.
Sleeping on board
Those who choose to sleep during a flight generally prefer to travel in first class and business class seats, as these are more comfortable, have additional legroom, and a better angle of recline than economy class seats. If economy class is your only option, aim for seats at the front or middle of the plane rather than at the back as this can be bumpy if there happens to be any turbulence. It is wise to avoid seats close to the galley or the lavatories, which tend to have heavier traffic and may disrupt sleep.
Experts recommend that one hour before you plan to nap, you should switch off all blue screen devices such as laptops, cell phones, and iPads and avoid watching the in-flight movie. Staying hydrated is important, and while sleep aids such as meds can be appropriate in some cases, its best to get your health practitioner’s advice first. Moderate your coffee intake as well, as this can keep you awake on board for longer than you’d like.
In this technological age, as you’d expect, there are apps and specialist devices that have emerged to help reduce jet lag. In particular, taking extra melatonin and manipulating light are thought to be beneficial. Jamie Zeitzer, PhD at the Stanford University School of Medicine has undertaken research into the effects of how short flashes of light during sleep can aid jet lag. One interesting device that helps to beat jet lag is the Human Charger. Developed by a scientist and an engineer, this is the first bright light headset in the world, and the light therapy it supplies is built around safe, white light. The testimonials in favor of the device’s effectiveness are impressive.
How Human Charger works
When you put on the headset, comfortable LED earbuds transmit light to the sensitive regions of your brain. After just 12 minutes, your light therapy session is completed. Daily use will help you keep your human batteries charged, and it’s safe to use anywhere, including during flight takeoff and landing. Used in conjunction with changing your sleep patterns, it’s easy to set up the charger according to your flight times and whether you are flying eastwards or westwards. There’s also an app that you can download if you have a cell phone, whether Apple, Android, or Windows versions. This helps you to plan specific trips, and once you enter your flight details, the app will remind you when to use the Human Charger.
Whether you plan to shift your eating times, your sleeping pattern, or use sleep aids, there are useful steps you can take by making adjustments before you leave. The same is true of apps and devices. The strategy to expose yourself to darkness and then to light at appropriate times is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Timothy Morgenthaler MD suggests tailoring whatever actions you take to the length of time you will be in another time zone – shorter journeys of up to four days need fewer adjustments. He also makes a point about eastwards versus westwards travel, and how to compensate for the differences between them.
Finally, taking melatonin at about 0.5 mg will help your biological clock shift a little faster, especially if you do this close to bedtime in your destination time zone. With all these tips available, you have never had such a good opportunity to minimize the destructive effects of jet lag, so make the most of what’s on offer.