What causes Jet Lag?
Jet lag occurs when you fly across one or more time zones.
Daylight plays an important role in our body’s natural biological clock or circadian rhythm, affecting the release of Melatonin which tells us when we should go to sleep and wake up. Jet lag occurs because our body's circadian rhythm has not had time to synchronise to the change in time zones.
The result, our body is telling us to stay awake when it’s late at night, or telling us it’s time to sleep when it is the only the middle of the afternoon.
Jet lag, affects different people differently, and can happen to anyone regardless of their age or level of fitness.
As recognised by betterhealth.vic.gov.au it is also often worse if you are travelling in an easterly direction
Your circadian rhythm (body clock) is less confused if you travel westward. This is because travelling west ‘prolongs’ the body clock’s experience of its normal day-night cycle (the normal tendency of the body clock in most of us is slightly longer than 24 hours). Travelling eastwards, however, runs in direct opposition to the body clock. If you suffer badly from jet lag, it may be worthwhile considering a westerly travel route if possible.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
The symptoms of Jet Lag vary between people. They may include:
- Loss of Appetite
- Lack of concentration
Coping with Jet Lag
Jet lag generally lasts for 2-3 days and although there is no cure there are things that you can do before, during and after travel to help.
- Ensure you have had enough sleep leading up to your travel and are not already suffering from a lack of sleep.
- If possible, begin moving your sleep patterns towards the sleep and wake time at your destination. Go to bed and get up a little earlier or later, gradually adjusting the length of time before your trip.
During the Flight
- Change the time on your watch to the time at your destination as soon as possible. The sooner you make the change, the easier it will be.
- Open the blinds on your flight to allow in sunlight only during the daylight hours at your destination.
- Try to sleep on the plane during the night time hours at your destination. A sleep mask, headphones or ear plugs may help block out any light and noise.
- Attempt to eat and sleep on the plane at the same time you will be eating and sleeping at your destination.
- Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine that may disturb your sleep cycles. (see our blog on Coffee and Sleep)
After the Flight
- Adjust your sleeping and eating patterns to the new time zone as soon as possible. Try to stay awake to your usual bedtime and get up when you normally would rather than having a sleep in.
- The Sleep Health Foundation does recommend that you can take short naps when adapting, which may help you feel more alert if necessary but also state that
“It is important that you sleep for no longer than 30 minutes and that you are awake for at least 4 hours before you go to bed.”
- If possible, during the day get outside or expose yourself to as much natural light as possible. Remember that daylight works with our Circadian Rhythm which tells us when it’s time to be awake and sleep.
- When ready to go to sleep, make sure the room you are staying in is set at the optimal temperature for sleep which is around 18-20 degrees and use ear plugs or headphones to drown out any unfamiliar sounds that may stop you falling asleep or wake you in the night.
Most importantly be prepared to give yourself the time to adjust. It will often take at least 2-3 days.