What Is Jet Lag & How To Overcome It
If you are a frequent international traveler, you know already what it is like to get struck with a jet lag. This phenomenon is stressful, irritating but also very predictable. There are ways to reduce the impact it has on your body. Find out how you can start to shorten down the time it takes for you to get adjusted to the new time zone. If you are a very lucky person, you might not even experience it then.
The first time I have been overseas, I did not waste a single thought about how I will encounter the jet lag. It was my first international flight and even years after, the longest one I ever took. It took more than 24 hours to get from Germany to Australia. Needless to say, I was completely sleep deprived, stressed and started to hallucinate after my arrival in Sydney, Australia.
The jet lag was especially hard to bear as I arrived early morning 7 am in Sydney. It took me more than 5 days to get used to the new time zone and I hope, nobody of you has to endure that. By the time you have read this, you will better understand what jet lag really is and why it actually happens to our bodies.
Understanding the issue is not enough, so make use of the quick tips here to minimize the impact that jet lag can have on your body!
What Jet Lag Really Is
You might have already heard that our body has an in-build clock. Not literally a clock, but it is made up of many cells with a certain gene that tells the other body parts what time it is and when they have to start to “work”. The so-called circadian rhythm regulates our behavior & activities and it uses the sunlight to determine if the body should start to calm down and get ready for sleep or to start the day freshly. A disruption of the circadian rhythm can prevent you from falling asleep at night and you start to feel tired the next day.
Back in 2013, a research team from the Oxford University said that they have found a “molecular brake” that prevents light from resetting our body clock. Which makes sense as you don’t want the moonlight to affect our body clock. Even artificial light from digital devices would have a massive impact on our in-build clock if they had any impact. The molecular brake does not completely prevent us from resetting the internal body clock but it is rather just slowing down the process.
In general, the sunlight acts as a reset button to keep our body clock in time. However, if we are flying around the world and experience less/more sunlight than usual, we start to experience fatigue or the so-called jet lag.
How Jet Lag Affects Us
Some readers might say now - “Okay, so you only feel a little bit tired. That is not a big deal”. I can safely say then that you haven’t experienced serious jet lag yet and I hope, you never will. Imagine symptoms with absolute tiredness and fatigue, lack of awareness and extreme confusion. It is like your body and the spirit are not one anymore. Combined with the possible culture shock and other environmental impacts onto you, it can be a real struggle to deal with in the first few days of arrival
How To Beat Jet Lag
I know, it sounds worrisome and I hope, I didn’t scare you before flying away on your first long-haul flight. The only really helpful way to avoid the jet lag symptoms is simply to adjust faster to the new time zone. There are a few ways that can help your body to adapt quickly to it. Find the most suitable ones for you as a combination and feel grateful, that you are not one of them, who experience jet lag.
Start Adjusting Your Schedule At Home
Are you traveling east - to - west or the other way around? Most people have troubles to adjust when they are flying east. Traveling from Europe to America, you need to wake up early and go to bed a bit later. It is like having a long party night and you just fall asleep a few hours later than you usually would do.
Traveling from Europe to Asia is a little different story. In that case, you have sleep way earlier than usual to stay in a perfect rhythm and to adjust your body as quick as possible. If possible, choose your flight schedule in a way that you are arriving late afternoon at the destination. With this option, you only have to stay awake for a couple of hours longer rather than trying to survive the day with fatigue due to an early morning arrival.
Arrivals in the late afternoon are perfect to catch a ride with the taxi, get to your hotel, get used to the new surrounding area and grab a nice dinner in a local restaurant.
Set Your Watch To The New Timezone
Be mentally prepared for your new time zone. Once you set a foot into the plane, set your watch to the new local time. Force yourself to stay awake until the time is reasonably late enough to fall asleep.
Adapt Your Sleep-Wake Rhythm
You adjusted your schedule at home already but here are two easy rules to combat jet lag while being in the plane - If you are flying east, get yourself cozy and catch some sleep as soon as possible. If you are flying west, stay awake as long as possible - enjoy the onboard food and the entertainment system.
Eat The Right Food & Not Too Much
Enjoy the fantastic cuisine onboard and at the airports but only to a reasonable amount though. Pasta, burgers, rice and potatoes can make you feel very full, heavy and thus really tired. Eggs, fish and meat instead are just enough to not feel hungry but they also don’t make you feel exhausted. Depending on the direction that you are flying to - choose your food wisely.
Drink Water Only
When you are flying, always drink plenty of water! It may sound appealing to have a glass of wine or beer while being high up in the sky. Some of you will fall asleep easier when drinking alcohol but it dehydrates your body. In combination with the dry air inside an airplane, it will accelerate the dehydration process and makes it harder you for adjust to the new time zone. For the same reason avoid drinking coffee or tea. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Just Relax For The First Few Days
Sitting on a long-haul flight and all the other stress situations that you endured before are taking a toll on your body. Take it easy for the first couple of days and listen to your body. If you feel tired, don’t head out for a day-trip to discover your new surroundings. It takes time for you body to adjust to the new environment and to get used to the new food, smells and culture. Keep the first few days nice and easy.
Know Your Planes
It is not secret that technology advances and it doesn’t stop with air planes. The newest generation has an improved air purification system that circulates and frequently refreshes the air inside the plane. Not only are those planes more comfortable but also the new inbuild LED systems are able to simulate more realistic daylight phases. This can have a small impact on reducing the effects of a jet lag.
Cut Your Flight In Half
I am still a big fan of taking several shorter flights than one direct flight to my destination. Not only do I like to explore the airports but it is very relaxing for me. Getting out of the plane, walking around, able to stretch my body. You can even have a shower at the airport to start to feel fresh again. Always get some exercise when sitting in the plane. Walk around and stretch to relax all muscles.
Avoid Sleeping Pills
Please avoid sleeping pills at all cost. They only do worse for you in the long run as you will wake up dizzy and confused. Rather cuddle yourself into the provided blankets, put an eyemask on and listen to some music or audiobooks. Try to catch some sleep that way.
Avoid Jet Lag Heading Home Again
By now, you know how your body reacted to the previous long-haul flight. Follow the same tips or make some adjustments necessary to the preparations to avoid the jet lag when coming back home.
You Cannot Make it Worse
All these tips & tricks are nice but absolutely not useful if you only cross a few time zones. If that is the case, then you might consider not getting prepared for it at all. As a general rule of thumb, only get prepared for a change in your sleeping patterns if you travel over more than 3 time zones to be on the safe side.
Keep in mind, that these tips will only help you to reduce the effects but not get rid of your symptoms completely.
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