Are you tired and sore, and are beset by a feeling that time and space have somehow been warped around you? If you so you might be suffering from jet lag. Jet lag is a relatively modern problem that became an issue with the rise of jet powered airplane travel. It’s caused by quickly traveling between time zones which throws off your body’s internal clock. This causes you to feel confused because you’re tired or wide awake in contrast to the actual time of day.
Jet lag affects people differently depending on their daily habits. If you keep a strict schedule then jet lag is going to be a bigger issue for you. If you work odd shifts or are something of a night owl then things might be easier for you. Regardless of the severity of your jet lag it will take time to recover. In the worst cases it could be days before you’re feeling back to your old self. Not really the news you want to hear if your vacation is only for a few days.
Jet Lag vs. Travel Fatigue
Jet lag and travel fatigue often go hand in hand. They are really two different issues that need to be treated separately. The symptoms of travel fatigue include headaches, sore muscles and sometimes disorientation. These come from sitting in a cramped seat, the dry air of the plane and of course bad food. You can minimize fatigue by staying hydrated during your flight and stretching your legs whenever you can. The best way of course is to fly first class if you have
the budget for it.
Jet Lag & Direction
Jet lag is actually more of a problem if you are traveling east instead of west. The body can adapt more easily to a day becoming longer when traveling west but losing time by going east is more of a challenge. I could go into all the medical reasons for this but honestly it’s a little confusing. The thing to remember the farther east you go the worse your jet lag is going to be.
Jet Lag & Light
Exposure to sunlight or other bright lights can help your jet lag or make it worse. Light exposure is the only proven way to cure jet lag. What you’re doing is tricking your body to accept a new time schedule faster than it would do naturally. The general rule of thumb is that you want to avoid morning light and get as much afternoon or evening light as possible.
- Morning Light: Avoid morning light up until nine or ten if possible. This will ease your transition into the day and your body will think you just slept in longer. This is a far easier scenario to adjust to. The more times zones you cross the more time you’ll want to spend in the dark. A journey that has taken you east across nine time zones might require you to avoid light until noon!
- Afternoon Light: Getting over jet lag can be done by exposing yourself to light in the afternoon and evening. The bigger the time zone jump the later in the day you’ll need to be exposed to light. This can be a challenge for severe cases where they recommend exposure when it might be already dark. Choose activities that will keep you in well lit areas like shopping malls or spend time in your hotel room with all the lights on.
Best Jet Lag Solutions
There are plenty of other solutions out there for curing jet lag but none are one-hundred percent proven. Results for these jet lag cures vary by the individual and some might not be safe for everyone. Remember, there is no magic cure and just because one person swears by their cure it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
- Food: Some say that eating at the appropriate local times can help trick the body into getting adjusted faster. This seems to make sense even though it’s not been proven to make a significant difference. You might just end up giving yourself a headache and making yourself feel worse. If you need to eat then eat. Especially if you have a medical condition.
- Sleeping Pills: The theory is that you can beat jet lag by using sleeping pills to force yourself to sleep at the local time. You will be sleeping when you’re supposed to be but your actual internal clock won’t be fooled so easily. Your body might just think it’s taking a nap and want to get real sleep later when it’s less convenient.
- Caffeine: The other side of the coin is to force your body awake by slamming coffee to stay awake. This might prevent you from going to sleep too early but it might not be enough. If you’ve traveled through enough time zones your body will just end up being confused.
- Exercise: One of the better solutions for jet lag that actually has been shown to work is exercise. Physically wearing yourself out to become tired is more natural and likewise vigorous activity can be used to kick start your body. This is more natural but those that have looked into this solution say the actual amount of exercise needed is often excessive for most people. I would imagine this solution came from professional athletes who need to beat jet lag often when traveling for games. I don’t know about you but doing a football workout routine is far beyond my abilities.
Ignoring Jet Lag
If your trip is only going to be for a few days then ignoring your jet lag might be the best option. You won’t have the time for your body to adjust to the new routine anyway so just power through it. If you’re on vacation the chances are you’re going to be throwing your schedule out the window anyway to stay up late and have fun.
If you’re on business then keep to your home schedule as much as possible. Attend your meetings and be in bed by five in the evening or stay up until three in the morning depending on your direction of travel. You’ll thank yourself when you get home for not trying to make an unneeded adjustment.
Things to Read regarding Jet Lag
If you want to learn more about why we get jet lag and how to beat it then check out some of the following books:
Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
Jet Lag Relief: It’s About Time by Daryal Mark