Jet lag is a real problem for those with existing sleeping troubles. Crossing over timezones on a flight completely throws the sleeping pattern off.
Jet lag occurs because the body maintains the sleep characteristics of the departure destination on arrival.
This is because air travel allows no natural time for the body to adjust to a new time zone; one minute you're up in the air and within a day you are in a new time zone having lost 4-12 hours depending on where you are flying from.
Jet lag may persist for up to 7 days after arrival, and those suffering insomnia have reported jet lag symptoms up to two weeks after arriving at their destination.
This means a holiday can be ruined before it even gets started, not to mention causing a nightmare when returning home and having to go back to work.
For some, symptoms of jet lag recede after the first 2 or 3 days following arrival but may still be acute at particular times of day which the body associates with the previous sleep pattern.
Jet Lag Symptoms
Crossing one or two time zones may not affect you at all, and some people barely suffer from jet lag at all. However, the majority of people crossing 3-4 timezones on a flight will experience jet lag at their destination.
Although individuals differ in severity of symptoms they experience, many people simply fail to recognize how they are affected, especially in tasks requiring concentration, situation awareness, and complex coordination. Here is a list of jet lag symptoms.
- Feelings disorientated
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Early morning waking (unable to get back to sleep)
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of motivation
How to Get Over Jet Lag – Staying on “Home Time”
When journeys entail a 2 to 3 hr time-zone transition and a short stay of 2-3 days, it ‘s possible to stay on “home time.” This is useful if your job entails global travel with short stays in the new timezone. However, this may not be feasible if you have to be up early in the morning at your destination.
If you do stay on “home time” you will need to ensure your hotel room/apartment is very dark so that the morning light doesn't disrupt your sleep. Remember that adjusting to jet lag takes place naturally; you won't feel it happening. Beyond a three-day stay you will not be able to prevent your body beginning to adjust.
– Take Westward-Bound Holidays
Flying westward is easier for the body to tolerate than flying eastward. Those who have travelled to SE Asia will know that it is harder to get to sleep on arrival, and far easier to sleep flying home – albeit that you'll experience early waking.
On flying westward, the first day is lengthened and the body’s rhythms can extend in line with their natural free-wheeling period of about 25 hr and thus catch up. Traveling to Japan (9 hr in advance of British Summer Time) and Malaysia (7 hr in advance of British Summer Time) requires more than 9 and 7 days, respectively, for jet lag symptoms to disappear in some individuals.
In contrast, readjustment is more rapid on returning to Britain from the east (Reilly, 2003). However, when time zone shifts approach near-maximal values (e.g., a 10-12 hr change) there may be little difference between eastward and westward travel and the body clock is likely to adjust as if the latter had occurred (Reilly et al., 2005).
– Avoid Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills will not help you get over jet lag. They will help you get to sleep but they do not guarantee a prolonged period asleep, nor help in time adjustment going forward.
Pills delay the onset of jet lag, and during a period of such difficulty sleeping are likely to trigger dependency. Bear in mind that your body will adjust. You will start sleeping properly soon. Listen to your body and let the process take its natural course.
– Focus on Local Time
The key to getting over jet lag as efficiently as possible is to adjust to the local daytime and nighttime in the new environment as best as possible. Focus on local time as soon as you arrive, and plan the day according to local time, ignoring the tiredness as best you can.
Change your watch and any other clock devices to local time immediately and take the emphasis off what time it might be back home. Natural daylight inhibits melatonin and is the key signal that helps to readjust the body clock to the new environment. So stay awake in the light and go to bed when it's dark.
Take Only Moderate Exercise
Many people make the mistake of trying to knacker themselves out with exercise. This will actually make you feel worse, because poor sleep for the first few days means the body will not repair itself as it would in deep, restful sleep.
Excessive exercise and minimal sleep will only make you feel more tired and may cause headaches and further grogginess. Exercise should be light or moderate in intensity for the first few days in the new time zone.
– Drink Plenty of Fluids
Travelers should also drink about 15 to 20 ml extra fluid per hour, preferably fruit juice or water, to compensate for the loss of water from the upper respiratory tract attributable to inhaling dry cabin air (Reilly et al., 2007b). A lack of water will heighten the symptoms of jet lag, and cause residual dehydration to persist into the new time zone.