The Mayo Clinic defines jet lag as “a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones.” As a frequent traveler myself I know just how hard it is to get over jet lag. But, after years of travel I’ve developed a few jet lag tips designed to help you avoid jet lag and/or recover from jet lag that much quicker! Before we get to those, let’s review some of the symptoms of jet lag.
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Symptoms of Jet Lag – what does jet lag feel like?
What is jet lag!? A question we often get from our readers (see our jet lag definition, above, from the Mayo clinic). The very next question we usually get is what are the symptoms of jet lag? Or what does jet lag feel like? Do I have jet lag?
The symptoms of jet lag can be pronounced at times, or more subtle. Here are some common symptoms that sufferers of jet lag often report:
- Fatigue / Tired – this is probably the biggest and most “visible” symptom of jet lag. You are simply tired and your body is fatigued.
- Insomnia – Jet lag insomnia can make it difficult to sleep (and difficult to wake).
- Difficulty concentrating – Often due to the massive fatigue your body is suffering from, you may, at times, have difficulty concentrating – especially on simple tasks.
- Moods – irritability or depression can often accompany travelers suffering from jet lag. You are irritable because you are tired!
- Jet Lag Nausea – travelers that are jetlagged may experience stomach issues, constipation or nausea.
- Fever – some people, although not many, may experience jet lag fever which is basically just a fever while being jet lagged.
- Overall “ugh” feeling – probably the best way to describe jet lag is an overall feeling of “ugh!” You just aren’t right. Not at peak levels. That feeling of “ugh” could mean you have jet lag.
As noted, jet lag can be subtle sometimes. It can sort of sneak up on you – especially in the first 24 – 48 hours after travel.
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What causes Jet lag?
The medical term for jet lag is circadian dysrhythmia. Try saying that 3 times fast (while jet lagged…). Circadian dysrhythmia is also referred to as jet lag disorder, or as the rest of us call it: jet lag.
So what causes circadian dysrhythmia? Hint: the answer is in the name. Circadian.
Your body works on a series of rhythms. We refer to this as our internal clock. Basically, after being in a specific part of the world for a short while our body adjusts. After it adjust…it then EXPECTS certain things to happen throughout the day. Like sleeping and eating.
Your body expects to sleep at around the same time each day. And wake up around the same time.
Fly halfway across the world to a different time zone and your body throws a bit of a fit.
Your body is basically: “Wait? I want to sleep, why are we taking a walking tour of this castle, right now!?”
Or: “Yeah, I know it’s 2 am, but dude, let’s go for a run and grab another cup of coffee!”
We call this jet lag. Your body’s rhythms get totally out of wack and your body pitches a fit (hence the symptoms of jet named earlier).
How Long Does Jet Lag Last?
This is another very common question travelers suffering from jet lag ask. How long will my jet lag last!? Haha…we get it. It sucks and feels terrible.
Good news! Jet lag doesn’t last forever. Typically jet lag will last between 3-5 days. Which really isn’t that long. That said, 3-5 days on a short vacation can be a real buzz kill which is why it’s best to try to avoid jet lag altogether.
Ok, now that we’ve defined what jet lag feels like and what some of the jet lag symptoms are, let’s get into some of the tips to get over jet lag, or better yet, how to avoid jet lag altogether!
11 Tips to get over Jet Lag
To get over jet lag there are certain things you can do before, during and after your flight.
Before the flight – how to avoid jet lag!
Here are some ideas to mitigate the effects of jet lag. Before your flight do these things:
- Hydrate. Water is a key aspect to mitigating the effects of jet lag. By keeping your body hydrated you will give it the best chance to fight off the effects of travel and keep your immune system functioning a higher level. It can also help your body fight off the effects of the typically very dry air prevalent in airplane cabins.
- Get plenty of rest. Try to get some extra sleep if you can before your flight. Think of this as “house credit.” Getting plenty of rest is a key ingredient to minimizing the effects of jet lag when you get to your destination.
- Gently adjust your sleep/wake schedule before your trip. Wake up an hour earlier in the days before your flight to “pre-load” your body’s adjustment to the new time zone. If you are traveling someplace that is 10 hours difference shaving off 3 hours can make a real difference and if your new time zone is only 3 hours from your original time zone you can be pretty close to ready when you get there.
During the flight – how to beat jet lag!
During your flight, there are a few things you can do to strategically limit the effects of jet lag:
- Hydrate. Staying hydrated while you fly is a great strategy to limit the impacts of jet lag. It will keep your digestive system moving in the right direction, reduce the chance of getting and headache and keep your immune system functioning at the right levels. I’ve found that bringing a collapsible water bottle and filling it up after you get through security is a great way to make it easier to stay hydrated.
- Stretch on the plane and at the airport. Get the blood flowing by stretching and moving around. Loosen up your joints and digestive system by stretching and moving around a bit during the flight.
- Minimize alcohol. It’s tempting to kick back a gin and tonic on your flight – and by all means do so if that’s your thing. But don’t have 6 of them…being hungover and jet lagged is miserable…
- Sleep – if you can (and if it’s a time you’d normally sleep). It’s often hard to sleep on the plane regardless of whether it is day or night, but if it’s a time you’d normally sleep, get a little rest, if you can. You can build up a little “house credit,” if you will, that may come in handy later. You might even want to grab a great travel pillow to help you sleep a little better or some good quality noise canceling headphones (like the Bose Noise Masking Sleepbuds).
After the flight – jet lag treatment, or how to beat jet lag part 2
After your flight, there are a few jet lag tips you can employ to help you recover from jet lag quicker:
- Get some sun. The sun is a key ingredient to getting your body to reset it’s “clock.” When skin is exposed to sun it reacts by turning cholesterol into Vitamin D which can support bone health among other things. It also plays a great role in “normalizing” your body to the local time zone. Specifically, light “influences the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that helps synchronize cells throughout the body” according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Eat on the local schedule. Continuing to normalize your body is a key aspect to getting over jet lag. So, even if you are not hungry, eat if it’s lunch time.
- Hydrate. Continue the theme of regular hydration (a great tip for non-travel days too). The water will keep your digestive system working, your cells and joints lubricated and likely reduce the chance of headaches.
- Force your body to adjust to the local time. If it’s day when arrive…try to stay up. Don’t crash out for 4 hours. If you absolutely have to, take a small 20 minute nap (sitting up will help you avoid dropping into a deep sleep). If it’s night, try to sleep. If need be, take a Tylenol PM (or whatever sleep medicine your doctor has prescribed you).
Jet Lag Medicine?
Speaking of jet lag medicine, another methodology that travelers might consider in treating jet lag (or avoiding it) taking some jet lag pills.
Typically this involves one or more combinations of the following options:
- Meletonin Supplements – these supplements can greatly aid your body’s circadian rhythms in adjusting. Meletonin, if you didn’t know, is a natural hormone that your body produces (your brain, specifically) and it signals your body that it’s time to sleep.
- Often, travelers will use Meletonin when they return from a trip. Basically you just want sleep…and Meletonin can a great way to beat jet lag when you get home
- A truly homeopathic approach – there are any number of companies selling jet lag medicine. Many use combinations of lavender and vanilla to aid travelers in getting better rest while traveling (and thus dealing with jet lag). Be careful here and do your research.
- Also, try to avoid any jet lag cures that your mother’s best friend’s cousin cooked up – or at least do your research first.
- Sleeping Pills – typically prescribed by your doctor. In essence, you take the pills to help you sleep when it’s “time” to sleep IN the time zone you are in (and thus mitigate the effects of jet lag, quicker).
Note: We are not doctors. Always consult a medical professional before taking supplements or medicine.
Final Thoughts on avoiding jet lag (or treating it!)
I hope you found these tips to get over jet lag useful. While it may take a few days to get over jet lag, using these tips can shorten that time period and get you back on the right track. Employ them on your next trip and get to enjoying your vacation quicker (or that business trip!).
We’d love to hear you favorite jet lag tips. Join the conversation by leaving us a comment and tweeting us @CBoardingGroup.
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