You’re finally on a plane on your way to a faraway place and you can’t contain your excitement. You imagine a whole week of adventure, seeing the sights and experiencing another culture. But when you get there, you find that the vacation of your dreams isn’t quite so dreamy—you toss and turn at night, wake up a little too late, and are sleepy and irritable in the afternoon. Before you know it, it’s time to go home with only hazy memories of your big vacation. What gives?
If you’ve ever been on a long-haul flight and skipped a number of time zones then you’ve probably experienced jet lag, a common sleep disorder affecting millions of travelers. Read on to find out exactly what it is, its symptoms, and how to fight jet lag.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag, according to studies, is a condition that results from an imbalance in the body’s circadian rhythms, a natural process that regulates the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, “These rhythms are measured by the distinct rise and fall of body temperature, plasma levels of certain hormones, and other biological conditions.” The foundation goes on to say that all of these are influenced by exposure to sunlight.
You can see the problem when you travel to a different time zone—suddenly, your body is exposed to sunlight when it’s supposed to be dark, or the other way around. It takes a while for the body to catch up to a day turned on its head, resulting in jet lag.
Jet lag symptoms include disturbed sleep (being unable to fall asleep, waking up throughout the night, sleepiness during the day), daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, and even stomach problems. The more time zones you cross, the longer it generally takes to get over it.
How to Overcome Jet Lag
Jet lag can really put a damper on your trip, especially if you don’t have much time for your vacation. It’s also a hassle for business travelers who have to go from a plane to a conference room—the jet lag symptoms, particularly sleepiness and a lack of concentration, can keep you from performing at your best.
The U.S. National Sleep Foundation outlines some things you can do before, during, and after your flight to help you adjust to the new time zone and give your body a better chance of fighting off the symptoms.
BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT
- Choose a flight that arrives at your destination early in the evening, then stay up until 10 p.m. local time.
- Traveling east? Start getting up and going to bed earlier a few days prior to your trip. If you’re traveling west, adjust by getting up and going to bed later.
- Forego caffeine and alcohol before your flight.
DURING YOUR FLIGHT
- Change your watch to the destination time zone.
AFTER YOUR FLIGHT
- When you get to your destination, skip the heavy meals or anything that can keep you up. You can try out the local cuisine the next day.
- Try to get some sunlight when you can—it will help your body adjust.
- Avoid any strenuous exercise before bedtime as this can energize you and keep you awake.
- Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep: Block out unwanted light, bring earplugs and a sleep mask, bring something familiar from home (such as a family photo or a favorite pillow).
Jet Lag Remedies
If you find that these tips can’t help you, you may want to consider a jet lag sleep aid:
- A caffeine-free organic tea can calm you down and relax you before bed. Chamomile, in particular, is seen as a sleep inducer, possibly due to an antioxidant called apigenin, which plays a role in decreasing anxiety. Studies have shown that this herb can improve sleep quality and even help those with chronic insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep. Other teas to try: lavender, valerian root, and lemon balm, which have been linked to reduced anxiety and insomnia management. (These teas are available at Healthy Options.)
- This hormone helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. It now comes in an over-the-counter supplement form. (Available at Healthy Options.)
- Other sleep aids. If the natural jet lag sleep aids don’t seem to have any effect, talk to your doctor about prescription medication. While this can help you manage travel-induced insomnia, be warned that sleeping pills may have some side effects and should not be used without a physician’s recommendation.
Products You Might Be Interested In
Healthy Options Melatonin 3mg 60T
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that helps to regulate the body’s natural biorhythm, or sleep/wake cycle.
Solgar Valerian Root Extract 60C
Valerian root works harmoniously with the natural relaxation cycle in the body to leave behind a busy day in order to allow for tranquil rest. This supplement is certified gluten-free, vegan, and free of wheat, soy, dairy, yeast, sugar, and sodium.
Healthy Options Valerian Root 125mg 100T
Valerian root is known as Valeriana officinalis, a natural alternative promoting relaxation and a good night's rest.
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