Oh no – Jet Lag?
Oh no – Jet Lag?
Considering myself as an experienced world traveler, I was surprised to find myself feeling drained, disoriented and unable to sleep after a relatively short red-eye flight to the other side of the coast to visit my sister. Could I really be experiencing jet lag after flying from California to New York, only 3 time zones? It’s not as if though I was on a 10 hour flight and flew to a different country! I felt like such an amateur tourist.
As it turns out, a study by the Upjohn Company revealed that 9 out of 10 flight attendants complain of jet lag, despite their familiarity with travel. Jet lag is also called flight fatigue and is a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, disorientation, irritability, swollen limbs, headaches and irregular bowels.
Jet Lag typically occurs when you travel quickly through two or more time zones. Complete recovery can take 3 to 7 days for westward travel, and 5 to 14 days after an eastward flight. As general rule of thumb, you should give yourself one day to recover for every hour of time difference. So when I flew to the Big Apple, I should have given myself at least three days to fully adjust to the new time zone.
It is such a wide spread phenomenon that there is a fatigue management team at NASA who help astronauts overcome jet lag. Neuroscientist and consulting member of NASA’s team states, “It’s only in the past 100 years we’ve been able to jump time zones, we haven’t evolved a way to adapt yet.”
Our internal body clock makes it harder for us to travel east, even when traveling within the United States. A study of 19 Major League Baseball teams using season records from 1991 to 1993 showed that the team that had just completed eastward travel would give up more than one run than usual in every game.
There is no miracle cure but here are a few things you can do to minimize jet lag so you can enjoy your new destination:
- Change your schedule – begin adjusting your body to the new time zone before you leave. Easing your body into the new schedule gradually will save your body the shock of adjusting all at once.
- Regulate your exposure to light, both natural and artificial light. If traveling east, expose yourself to light early, advancing your body clock so that it will be in sync with the new time zone. If traveling west, expose yourself to light at dusk and the early part of the evening. To regulate the light during a flight, wear sunglasses on the plane, even if it is night – people will think you are a rock star!
- Sleep during the flight. Eye masks and earplugs are wonderful to help a person fall asleep.
- Once you arrive, eat right and prepare your room for a good night’s sleep. Avoid alcohol and large or spicy meals. Close the blinds or curtains and cover any light from a clock, computer, television, even your smartphone. Even a small amount of light can make you more alert and reset your internal clock to the wrong time, making you think the day has begun.
Sounds confusing? No worries. There is a jet lag calculator on a certain airline website where you can put in information regarding your flight and it will advise on when to avoid and when to seek light. It’s a pretty nifty tool, you don’t have to sign into the website and it’s free!
Well, there you have it! Since light is the primary environmental cue telling your body’s clock when to sleep and when to wake, controlling jet lag is really about controlling light and darkness.