Everything you need to know about jet lag


What is jet lag and how do you prevent it? Here's everything you need to know!

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a physiological condition that occurs when air passengers travel long distance and cross multiple time zones during a short period of time. Jet lag, also known as jet lag disorder, time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis, happens when the body's circadian rhythms are disturbed. The circadian rhythms, better known as 'the body clock', regulate bodily functions such as sleep; it tells your body when to stay awake and when to sleep. When this rhythm is disturbed it can result in sleep disturbances, insomnia, lethargy, stomach problems, headaches and irritability among other things.

Jet lag symptoms tend to get worse the older you get. Children are normally not affected as much as adults and seniors - the younger you are, the faster your body clock will get back on track. The severity of the symptoms also depend on how many time zones you cross during your flight. If you only fly across two time zones it is not likely that you will be affected by jet lag in the same way as when you fly across ten or more. Jet lag also tend to hit you harder when traveling from west to east than the other way around. This is because when we travel eastward we lose hours and therefore get less time to recover and to get our body clock in synch. 

An example of jet lag: New York to Paris

 If your flight depart from JFK in New York at 4:00 PM on Monday local time and the estimated flight time is 7 hours, you will arrive at Charles de Gaulle in Paris at 5:00 AM on Tuesday local time. Your body clock however thinks it is 11:00 PM. So, when the Parisians are ready to wake up - your body tells you its time to go to sleep. 

How to prevent jet lag

There's is no magical cure for jet lag, but there are things you can do to reduce the effects. One of them, and probably the most widely used, is changing your sleep pattern a few days ahead of departure. This will prepare your body for the new time zone. When flying eastward this means waking up and going to bed earlier than normal and when flying westward waking up and going to bed later. Another thing you can do is using an eye mask onboard the plane and try your best to sleep when its night time at your final destination. It is also a good idea to set your watch to the destination's time zone as soon as you board the plane.

Sitting still for a long time, especially in an uncomfortable position, can be a trigger for jet lag. Try staying active during your flight, maybe by walking back and forth the aisle, doing some stretching exercises or simply standing up from time to time. It is also important to keep hydrated. Drink a lot of water during the flight and try to avoid both caffeine and alcohol. Staying away from coffee and alcoholic beverages the days before departure has also proven to be a way to reduce the effects of jet lag.

By booking a flight arriving early evening local time, you can prevent jet lag. Flying long-haul is exhausting for most people and if you arrive during the evening with only a few hours until bedtime you're really doing your body clock a favour.

When jet lag hits you

Usually it takes a few days for your body to adjust to the new time zone. There is however a few things you can do that might speed up the process. The first thing is exposing yourself to sunlight at your destination, which will influence the regulation of the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland. The secretion of melatonin is probably the body's most important mechanism for getting us sleepy. The release of melatonin varies during the day and is affected by whether its light or dark; at night the pineal gland produces a lot of melatonin and during daylight hours the opposite.

If you want to get rid of jet lag you should also try to stay awake until local night time. The longer you can stay awake the better. Another thing you should do is try to eat at local mealtimes. Keeping hydrated by drinking a lot of water and staying away from caffeine and alcohol, which can affect your sleep, is also important.