Vacations and travel are times filled with excitement and new experiences. Unfortunately, if you are traveling far from your home city, you will probably cross over a time zone (or a few!). Adjusting to the difference in time can be difficult for our bodies and can really put a damper on the trip if you’re walking around feeling like a zombie for the first few days thanks to jet lag.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag, also called time zone change syndrome, can occur when you travel across numerous time zones quickly without giving your body time to adjust. This phenomenon is very common in travel today, because of the ability to go halfway across the world in an airplane in a matter of hours.
Your body operates on 24-hour cycles called circadian rhythms, and these cycles can be affected by the cycle of the sun. These cycles tell your body when it’s time to sleep, when to start producing certain hormones, when to ramp up your metabolism and much more. When you travel to a new time zone and the time is completely different from what your body is used to, things can get a little out of whack.
The most common jet lag symptom is exhaustion. You may also feel irritable, get headaches or experience disorientation. This is because the hormones that control your sleep-wake cycle and other cycles get out of sync with the time of day in your new location. You may feel these effects until your circadian rhythms realign with the time in your vacation spot.
Unfortunately, by the time this happens, you might be on another plane heading back to your hometown, and the jet lag cycle might begin again.
How to halt jet lag in its tracks
There are a few ways you can help prevent jet lag, or at least reduce its effects, when you travel to and from your destination.
- Adjust your sleep schedule ahead of time: The major issue with jet lag is that when you arrive in your destination, the time zone is so different from your own that you are unable to sleep at night. You can fight this preemptively by adjusting your sleep schedule little by little in the days leading up to your trip. If you’re heading east, go to bed a half hour to an hour earlier for a few days before the trip. If you’re heading west, go to bed a little later than normal. This will help offset the major changes in time zone.
- Use a sleep supplement: Both jet lag and excitement or stress from your travels can keep you up at night and make you more tired the next day. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night when you arrive at your destination, try taking a natural sleeping supplement to soothe your mind and help you fall asleep faster.
- Avoid alcohol: Having a drink at the airport or on the plane might help you feel more relaxed and in a “vacation mood,” but alcohol is one of the worst things you can have when trying to combat jet lag. Alcohol can lead to dehydration, which makes it more difficult to sleep properly and can also affect the quality of sleep you get.
- Skip the caffeine: If you’re feeling exhausted and want a pick-me-up to get you through the jet lag blues, it can be tempting to grab a cup or two or coffee or an energy drink. However, caffeine can be extremely disruptive to your sleep cycle and might make it more difficult to fall asleep, particularly if you’ve had some close to bedtime.
- Take melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces to signal that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin production is regulated by your circadian rhythms, but when those rhythms are off, it might not be produced until much later or may be produced way too early. Try taking a melatonin supplement two hours before bed while in your travel destination to help signal to your body to get ready for sleep and to sleep more soundly. Use melatonin every night until you return home from your travels.
- Avoid naps and sleep at the proper time: When your plane lands and you eagerly head out into your destination, you might be tempted to take a quick snooze at your hotel before venturing out to see the sights, but this is a bad idea! Try as hard as you can to push through the day without napping. If you can, you’ll probably be more tired at night when it’s the appropriate time to sleep and you can help your body get onto the proper sleep schedule faster.
Jet lag can be a major cause of frustration while traveling—after all, who wants to feel exhausted and cranky when you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself? With some preparation and attention to your body’s internal clocks, though, you can get your rhythms back on track quickly and enjoy your destination to the fullest without the tiring side effects.