By: Kristin Dahl
It goes without saying that travelling the world is one of the most exciting and fulfilling things people do. Airplanes have permitted long distance travel over a short amount of time, which has completely changed how we are able to view the world. It gives people the remarkable opportunity to experience new cultures, languages, food, and landscapes — and checks off many items on the bucket list.
However, the exhilaration of travel does come with a pesky, unavoidable reality: jet lag. Whether you fly economy or first class, it affects everyone who travels across time zones. Although jet lag symptoms can vary from person to person, it is generally characterized by: disrupted sleep patterns, daytime fatigue, reduced ability to concentrate, increased irritability, headaches, impaired digestion, dehydration, and muscle aches. Understanding and finding ways to beat jet lag is key to getting out of bed and conquering the new city you’ve just landed in.
So, what exactly is jet lag? Jet lag is essentially a disruption in the body’s normal routine. Our bodies are governed by circadian rhythms, which are regulated by such things as temperature, external environment, and light. Our circadian rhythms are responsible for melatonin production and the quality of the sleep-wake cycle the body experiences on a daily basis. Jet lag is a symptom of unregulated circadian rhythms. There is good news though! There are many ways (before, during and after your travel) to ease the symptoms of jet lag and decrease the amount of time it is present for.
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
As with many health issues, prevention is the best course of action. There are four major things that you can do before you leave that will ensure an easy transition into the new timezone.
1. Self-Care: Getting yourself into the best state, physiologically before you leave will have huge implications in warding off the feelings of jet lag. Light exercise, meditation, healthy food choices and avoiding alcohol are great examples of self-care practices. Travel is a stressor on the body and when the body is working optimally it is better equipped to deal with stress.
2. Gradually Adjust to the Time Zone: This is a phenomenal way to ease your body into a new sleep-wake cycle that otherwise would happen at a faster rate and cause the body significant stress. Depending if you are travelling east, or west, go to sleep one hour earlier/later and wake one hour earlier/later. You will want to repeat this pattern going up to three hours on either end for roughly a week before you fly out. This programs your body to know when melatonin production should be at its highest.
3. Acclimate: If you will be away for longer than a few days, begin to acclimate your body to the new time zone by altering your eating schedule three days before your departure date. Three days before you leave start eating your meal an hour earlier or later (depending on which way you’re travelling).
4. Avoid Alcohol: Try your best to avoid alcohol before your flight, during the flight and after the flight. Alcohol causes dehydration, disrupts sleeping schedules, triggers, nausea and can lead to general discomfort.
IN THE AIR
Just as there are steps you can take pre-flight to minimize the effects of jet lag, what you do in the air can impair or exacerbate the symptoms. Below are three tips to starve off jet lag that are sure to leave you feeling rested, and in tune with the new time zone when you land.
1. Stay Hydrated: It is well documented that flying is dehydrating. This paired with the often free liquor on flights is the golden combination to promote jet lag symptoms. As previously discussed, travel is a stress and staying hydrated is key for the body to remain in homeostatic balance. This means that water is needed for the body to mitigate the effects of stress. Drink up!
2. Avoid Sleeping Pills: Sleeping pills have been shown to amplify jet lag symptoms. They can leave you feeling groggy and disoriented and hinder the body’s natural ability to adjust to new rhythms. Instead opt for some meditation music, an eye mask and a few drops of lavender essential oil for a mid flight nap.
3. Eat Good Food: This is a huge one. When the body is digesting processed foods or foods high in carbohydrates it demands a lot of energy. When this energy is being used to digest it cannot be directed toward the responses needed to deal with stress. Opt for light, nutrient dense meals to support the body during this time and avoid sugar, refined carbs and keep it simple. This will speed up the adjustment time once you land. Food that you can pack at home and take through security are: bananas, apples, oranges, meat, granola bars, sandwiches (in container) and sliced fruit (in container.)
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Once you arrive at your destination, there are many things you can do to combat jet lag on the ground. Below are seven ways to reverse the symptoms of jet lag.
1. Drink Coffee: Coffee is a stimulant and when you wake up in the morning, even if your body is telling you not to, it is best to give it some help to get your circadian rhythms back on track. Avoid having two or more cups.
2. Take Melatonin: Taking a dose of 3-5 mg before bedtime will help put you to sleep and wake up at the appropriate time. You can try adding valerian in the mix for an added relaxation benefit. Take 4 ml after dinner, and 4ml right before bed for best results.
3. Use Magnesium: This mineral is fantastic for jet lag. It helps to calm the body and reduce stress. In addition to this, it eases gastrointestinal upset, which is a common symptom of jet lag.
4. Meditate: Did you know mediation has been shown to increase melatonin production? There are many great apps that can lead you through mediation from the comfort of your hotel room.
5. Light Therapy: Since light and lack there of are the main regulators of circadian rhythms take advantage of light therapy. During the day, be sure to expose yourself to bright light as much as possible. Natural sunlight is best but a sunlamp will do the trick. This will lower melatonin levels in the day, reducing daytime fatigue.
6. Exercise: Exercising while travelling deserves its own reason to congratulate yourself. But, did you know the timing of when you exercise in relation to helping jet lag matters? It is important to exercise at the same time you did while at home to help get your body back into its regular circadian rhythm.
7. Earthing: Also referred to as grounding. It involves making direct contact with your bare feet to the earth (grass, water, sand, etc.). This allows you to soak up the earth’s negative charge (the ideal setting for the body), which reduces inflammation and promotes a refreshing feeling.