What is jet lag?
Jet lag refers to the feelings of exhaustion and discomfort that can accompany passengers travelling through different time zones on board an airplane. It used to be considered a purely psychological condition, but nowadays the physiological effects of jet lag are more widely recognised and understood.
Some symptoms might include:
It’s extremely common and it’s estimated that 93% of travellers will experience jet lag at some point in their journey.1 Most of you probably take it for granted, especially if you are going on a long-distance flight from London to Sydney or Tokyo to New York. You expect that the first few days of your holiday will be spent resting, allowing your body to adjust to its new time zone.
However, is this attitude of surrender really the right way to go? Perhaps not, but in order to beat jet lag, you first have to understand why it occurs!
Your body clock and circadian rhythm
Jet lag is primarily caused by an imbalance in your body’s internal biological clock. This biological clock is responsible for a number of functions throughout your body, particularly your sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle that tells you when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake. This rhythm is controlled by a master clock, the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN). The SCN responds to your optic nerve by detecting changes in light.
When the SCN detects that there is a movement in light, such as from light to dark, it will signal to other areas of your body that it is time for you to sleep and your production of melatonin will increase, making you feel more lethargic.
However, when your circadian rhythm is thrown out of balance, the SCN may become confused and can cause insomnia. For example, if you fly from London to Sydney, a substantial journey that can last for well over 20 hours, you will pass through multiple time zones and may land during the day.
You will feel exhausted – after all, it might be 9am in the morning in Sydney, but to you it could be the middle of the night. You will want to sleep but daylight may trick the SCN into releasing hormones like cortisol to keep you awake.
However, it might not just be your circadian rhythm that’s making you feel out of sorts. Studies are suggesting that the difference between oxygen levels in your cabin and outside may also contribute to feelings of lethargy. The air pressure in your cabin is likely quite low, meaning that not as much oxygen will be reaching your brain, making you feel sleepy and exaggerating any other jet lag symptoms!2
How long does jet lag last?
This can depend on a number of different factors – how many time zones you’ve crossed, the length of your journey and the time you arrive at.
It’s generally assumed that you will need to set aside more rest time if you are travelling east, rather than west. This is because when you travel west, your day will be extended and you will gain a few extra hours, making it easier for you to recover. However, if you are going to east, the opposite is true and your body will lose hours.3
Some say that to get an idea of how long it will take you to recover, you need to add a day of recovery for every time zone you cross after the initial 2 or 3. This isn’t a very accurate method though – if you were flying from London to Sydney, according to this method it may take almost a week for your body clock to adapt, which isn’t always the case.
Can you beat jet lag?
A certain amount of fatigue and stress is to be expected with any travel experience, however this doesn’t mean you should give in and not try to minimise the impact. Completely eradicating jet lag might be difficult but there are a number of steps that you can take to reduce its affect and increase your recovery time.
1 – Get plenty of rest before you go
It’s not exactly a secret but flying can be very stressful – you have to worry about boarding passes, checking in, getting through security and considering possible delays. These anxieties can then be exaggerated, especially if you are travelling with small children or harbour a fear of flying!
It’s no wonder then that often you won’t sleep properly the night before you are due to fly out. This inevitably means that you arrive at the airport and board the plane already feeling exhausted – not exactly a great start to your travels!
Make sure you get a good night of rest before your flight – even if you do get a few symptoms, you will at least feel more equipped to handle them than you would have done already starting a step behind!
If you are struggling to sleep, I’d recommend using our natural sleep remedy Dormeasan. Prepared using extracts of organic Valerian and Hops, Dormeasan helps to regulate your sleep pattern, encouraging a natural sleep cycle without any of the drowsy side-affects associated with traditional sleep remedies!
2 – Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Whether you’re feeling a bit on edge or want to get into that holiday spirit, it doesn’t matter. A lot of us find excuses to visit the bar in the departure lounge or to treat ourselves to a glass of wine on-board, and this is definitely doing to more harm than good!
Not only is alcohol loaded with inflammatory chemicals, it can also dehydrate you and trust me, the last thing you want is to be dehydrated on a long-haul flight! Similar to alcohol, a lot of people seem to think the best way to beat lethargy is to counteract it with a cup of coffee or a fizzy energy drink. Caffeine however, will inhibit your ability to sleep and throw your body off-balance. It may also increase your vulnerability to dehydration.
Instead, drink plenty of water and consider a natural mineral drink to top up your levels of fluid-retaining electrolytes once you have landed. Our Balance Mineral Drink is full of trace minerals and may even help to combat some feelings of fatigue!
3 - Adjust your circadian rhythm
If you are going on a long-haul flight, it might be an idea to try syncing your body clock to your destined time zone a few days before you travel. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone, especially if you’re working or have children, however, if you do have the time I would try to make small steps towards doing this.
For example, if you are flying east, try going to bed earlier each night in preparation for losing hours during the flight. The reverse might also be a good idea if you are flying west. Try to do this gradually over the course of a few days – it should help your body to adapt and you might find yourself beating the jet lag by the time your arrive.
If you are going to be earlier, try to go to sleep in a darkened room – remember how light can stimulate your circadian rhythm!
4 – Spend time outside
Believe it or not, depending on when you arrive, it might be an idea to spend some time outside. If you arrive early in the morning and want to stay awake to force your body to adjust, soaking up some vitamin D outdoors should help to stimulate your circadian rhythm.
It’s also been proven that sunlight can help to release mood-boosting hormones such as serotonin!4 So instead of barricading yourself in a hotel room, take a walk and explore your new surroundings.
5 – Consider your diet
Some research has suggested that food may have some influence over your circadian rhythm, with some even theorising that food may be able to override a light-based rhythm!5
Interesting – so what you eat can make a real difference! If this is the case, refined carbs and sugar might not be such a good idea. Not only will they frazzle your nervous system and upset your digestion, they may stimulate the release of inflammatory chemicals, exhausting your immune system and making you more prone to jet lag symptoms.
Instead, stock up on plenty of fruit and veg before your flight, especially if they are rich in mood-boosting magnesium or melatonin. Kale, spinach and cherry juice are excellent for managing jet lag symptoms!
You might also want to consider when you are going to eat during your flight – some try to sync their meal times in much the same way they try to match up their sleep patterns, although I would not recommend eating a heavy meal in the middle of the night, no matter what time it is in your intended destination.
Having a lighter meal around that time might be a more sensible choice. You will also want to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels to avoid a ‘crash’ so I would include some wholegrain carbohydrates in your diet, such as brown rice, wholewheat bread and pulses. These should help to keep your blood sugar regulated and may help to maintain insulin production.