If you've ever experienced jet lag, you know how much of a drag it can be. Jet lag occurs as a result of air travel, when traveling between two or more time zones. Your body is accustomed to operating a certain way, and when you disrupt its timing, you're likely to encounter problems. Jet lag is a disruption of your normal sleeping patterns, which in turn disrupts your circadian rhythm, your body's natural biological cycle.
Edward Norton's character in the movie "Fight Club" chronicles the struggle of jet-lag-induced insomnia due to his constant traveling. While his character suffered from an extreme case, and insomnia is just one of the effects of jet lag, it can lead to other problems such as disorientation, fatigue, dehydration, nausea, irritability, memory loss and confusion. None of those are things you need to contend with on a business trip or family vacation, and they certainly won't make your trip very enjoyable, either.
Sleep deprivation, or the inability to sleep when you need to, is the biggest problem travelers suffer from jet lag. Seasoned travelers may get used to it, but you don't have to be a walking zombie when you get home from a four-day business trip. There are things you can do to prevent the symptoms of jet lag. In no particular order, here are five tips you can use to help combat jet lag the next time you fly.
Modify Your Body's Clock
To prevent the disruption in your body's timing that comes with crossing time zones, you need to change your body's clock sooner rather than later. You can do this by putting yourself on the same time as your destination time zone before you fly. If you know you'll be traveling to London from the Eastern United States, you'll have a five-hour time difference to cope with. Plan for it.
Get your body used to London time the week leading up to your flight. If possible, go to bed and wake up at the time you would if you were in London. It would be three hours later than what you're used to, but it'll help your body adjust. Don't feel the need to do it all at once. Work up to the time difference gradually — perhaps 30 minutes to and hour each day. Your body needs to stay within its daily regime, or it starts to fight the effects of jet lag. If work doesn't allow you to make this type of adjustment, do what you can to try to get your body's clock adjusted to your destination's time.
Avoid Heavy Food and Alcohol
Have you ever felt like taking a nap right after finishing a Thanksgiving meal? You're not alone. You've just eaten an extremely heavy meal probably loaded with carbohydrates, which make you sleepy. And while that's fine when you're laid out on the sofa about to watch the Cowboys-Lions game on TV, it's not exactly what you want when you're traveling and trying to get your body accustomed to a new time zone.
Part of the luxury of flying commercially, especially if you fly business or first class, is taking advantage of the food and drinks. If you want to avoid jet lag, though, you'd better think twice. Eating heavy foods will only make your jet lag worse. But it isn't just about laying off the heavy meals. Alcohol isn't good to consume during a flight, either, because it tends to make you drowsy and dehydrated. That can play havoc with your sleep. Wait until your body adjusts before you decide to eat heavy foods and drink alcohol.
Wear Yourself Out
If you have kids, you probably already know how this tip works. Wear yourself out before flying so you can potentially get some sleep once you get to a different time zone. By exercising or doing some other physical activity before your flight, you may be tired enough on the flight to catch some Zzzs.
A flight from Atlanta to Paris can last more than eight hours. Flying from Atlanta to Hawaii can approach 10 hours and each covers many time zones. Sometimes you fly overnight and essentially lose a day. So the last thing you need to do is stay up when you finally do get a chance to go to bed. If you are able to maintain a sensible schedule, you won't suffer the full effects of jet lag as your body adjusts to the new time zone. Take a nap on the plane, too. Wearing yourself out will certainly help you get the sleep you need once you arrive at your destination.
One of the most important things the military teaches new recruits during basic training is the importance of drinking water. At all times soldiers have to carry water — either in canteens or in jugs in their vehicles — to stay hydrated. This same message is good for everybody, regardless of whether they're a soldier.
When traveling across time zones, dehydration can sneak up on you if you aren't careful. The quickest way a vacation or business trip can take a turn for the worse is if you need to spend a night in the hospital taking in intravenous fluids. Keep yourself hydrated throughout the entire travel process.
Drink lots of water. Stay away from the energy drinks and sodas — especially the energy drinks. They may seem tempting, but energy drinks don't provide significant help in replenishing your body's fluids. Stick to water before you fly and during your flight, too. And drink plenty of H2O before your flight. Not only will you stave off dehydration, it's also free once you're on the plane.
As you work through changing your body's clock, keep in mind you may need extra time when you get to your destination, too. This can be especially important before a business meeting or if you're heading somewhere during the busy holiday season. Arrive early and give your body even more time to adjust. Since jet lag comes on primarily when you're circadian rhythm is thrown out of whack, you need to do whatever you can to limit the effects. That might also mean tricking your body through the use of supplements such as melatonin[, which is a natural chemical in the body that helps regulate our sleep.
Preparation leading up to your flight is crucial to fighting the effects of jet lag. But if you feel it setting in, be prepared to deal with it. Have plenty of water readily available and don't be afraid to carry medicines that will help alleviate your symptoms. What works for one person may not work for everyone. That's why the best way to fight jet lag is to educate yourself and be prepared. Only then will you be able to function properly while hopping time zones.
For more on jet lag and other travel-related topics, take a look at the links below.
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- Cunha, John P. DO. "Jet Lag." Medicine.net. (May 20, 2010) http://www.medicinenet.com/jet_lag/article.htm
- Peri, Camille. "How to Cope with Jet Lag." WebMD. (May 19, 2010) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/jet-lag-remedies
- University of Iowa Health Care. "Health Topics: Dehydration." (May 21, 2010) http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/digestivesystem/dige3498.html
- WebMD. "Insomnia (Chronic and Acute) Causes and Symptoms." (May 20, 2010) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/insomnia-symptoms-and-causes
- WebMD. "Melatonin Overview." (May 20, 2010) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/tc/melatonin-overview
- WebMD. "Natural Sleep Aids and Remedies." (May 21, 2010) http://women.webmd.com/pharmacist-drugs-medication-9/natural-sleep-remedies