Jet Lag: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Jet Lag

Jet lag, also popularly known as a jet lag disorder, is a sleep problem that affects any person who travels quickly across multiple time zones. The good news is that jet lag is a temporary condition and it can happen to anyone.

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The human body has its inbuilt clock that regulates our sleeping and waking activities. Jet lag happens because the body’s internal clock is still in tune with your formal time zone instead of the new time zone. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to experience Jet lag.

Jet lag can lead to daytime fatigue, difficulty staying alert, an unwell feeling, and even gastrointestinal problems. Jet lag is known to be temporary, and there is no cause for alarm.

However, it can also significantly reduce your level of comfort during your vacation or business travel. Fortunately, there are a few vital steps you can take to help minimize or even prevent jet lag.

Symptoms

The symptoms of jet lag may vary. Sometimes, you may experience just one sign or many. Jet lag symptoms may include the following:

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep — such as insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level
  • A general feeling of not being well
  • Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
  • Mood changes

Symptoms get worse the farther you travel

The symptoms of jet lag usually occur within one day or two days of travel if you have had to move across a minimum of two time zones.

The symptoms are more likely to get worse or even last longer with the more time zones you have crossed, most especially if you have traveled in an easterly direction. Usually, it takes around one day or two days to recover for every time zone crossed.

When to see a doctor

As earlier stated, jet lag is a temporary condition. But if you frequently travel across time zones and continually have to struggle with jet lag, you may need to see a sleep specialist

Causes of jet lag

A disruption to your circadian rhythms

Jet lag can happen whenever you travel across two or more time zones. The reason jet lag occurs is that whenever you cross multiple time zones, it puts your internal clock (or circadian rhythms), which does the job of regulating your sleep-wake pattern, out of sync with the new time you are in.

For Instance, if you travel from New York on a flight at 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, and get to Paris at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, it is normal for your internal clock to still think that it is 1:00 a.m, which means that you’re ready to go to bed just as Parisians are getting out of bed.

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And because it only takes a few days for the human body to adjust, not only your sleep-wake cycle, but most other body functions, such as bowel habits, and hunger remains out of step with the rest of the new place.

The influence of sunlight

A significant influence on a person’s internal clock is sunlight. That is simply because light has an impact on the regulation of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps to synchronize cells within the entire body.

Specific cells in the tissue present at the back of your eye (retina) are responsible for transmitting the light signals to a part of your brain known as the hypothalamus.

At night, when it is normal that the light signal becomes low, the hypothalamus signals the pineal gland, which is a small organ located in the brain, to produce melatonin. When it is daylight hours, what occurs is the opposite, and the pineal gland makes very little melatonin.

It might be possible for you to ease your adjustment to a new time zone by exposing yourself to sunlight (daylight) in the new place so long as you do the light timing properly.

Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere

Some research has revealed that changes in cabin pressure, as well as high altitudes together with air travel, may cause some symptoms of jet lag, despite travel across time zones.

In addition to that, humidity levels in planes are also low. If you do not drink enough liquid ( especially water) during your flight, you may get slightly dehydrated. Note that dehydration may also add to some of the symptoms of jet lag.

Risk factors

Some factors that increase the likelihood that you experience jet lag are:

  • The number of time zones crossed: This is one of the most common factors. The more time zones a person crosses, the more likely they are to suffer a jet-lag.
  • Flying east: You may find it more challenging to fly eastward, when you “lose” time, than flying westward, when you gain time back.
  • Being a frequent flyer: The people most likely to deal with jet lag are pilots, flight attendants, and business travelers.
  • Being an older adult: For older adults, there may be a need for more time to out of a jet lag than for younger adults.

Complications

Life-threatening issues like motor vehicle accidents as a result of drowsy driving may be more likely in jet-lagged individuals.

Prevention

Jet Lag

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There are a few necessary steps that may help to prevent jet lag or to reduce its effects:

Arrive early

If you have a meeting that is considered essential or any other event that requires you to be active or in top form, make sure that you arrive a few days early so that your body gets a chance to adjust.

Get plenty of rest before your trip

Going on a journey, sleep-deprived makes cases of jet lag worse.

Gradually adjust your schedule before you leave

If you are traveling east, make a conscious effort to go to bed about one hour earlier every night for at least four days before your departure.

And if you’re flying west, try to go to bed at least one hour later than usual for several nights. If possible, eat every meal closer to the time you’ll eat them at your new destination.

Regulate bright light exposure

As we have earlier pointed out, light exposure has a prime influence on the human body’s circadian rhythm, therefore, regulating light exposure may help you properly adjust to your new location.

Generally, direct exposure to light, especially in the evening will help you adjust better to a later than usual time zone ( if you’re traveling westward). Exposure to the morning sun can help you adapt better to an earlier time zone (for those moving eastward).

The only exception is if you have had to travel above than eight time zones from your first time zone, as your body might begin to mistake evening dusk for early morning light. Your body might also mistake early morning light for evening light.

So, if you have traveled above eight time zones to the east, put on sunglasses and make efforts to avoid bright light in the morning, and then let in as much sunlight as you can in the late afternoon during the first few days in your destination.

If you have traveled to the west by over eight time zones, stay away from sunlight a few hours before it is dark for the first couple of days so you can adjust to the local time.

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Stay on your new schedule

You may not remember this, but it is needed that you set your watch to the new time before you depart.

Once you arrive at your destination, try not to go to bed until the local nighttime. Do this, regardless of how tired you are. For your meals, try to time them with local mealtimes too.

Stay hydrated

Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to balance out the dehydrating effects that result from dry cabin air.

Dehydration can quickly worsen your jet lag symptoms. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can not only dehydrate you but also affect your sleep.

Try to sleep on the plane if it’s nighttime at your destination

The use of earplugs, headphones, and eye masks are underrated. These items can help to block out light and noise. If it is daytime at the location you’re going, avoid the urge to sleep.

Jet lag doesn’t require the use of medication, so you need not purchase any over the counter pills to help you find sleep.

We hope that you find this article of help, please leave a comment below and let us know what your thoughts are.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.