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Why We Have Jet Lag And How To Deal With It

Why We Have Jet Lag And How To Deal With It

“I think a major element of jetlag is psychological. Nobody ever tells me what time it is at home.” – David Attenborough

You fly across a few time zones, adjust your watch accordingly, and you expect your own internal body clock to do the same. A quick flick of a switch, or a magic pill, and – hey, presto! – we are ready to explore our new destination. We can eat, sleep and get up just like everybody else there. Wishful thinking!

As we all know, our body clocks are not so easily fixed, and sometimes it take days to adjust to the new light/dark rhythms. As a result, we suffer from the dreaded jet lag and feel wretched for the first few days of our holiday or business trip. For example, with a west to east flight from San Francisco to Rome it may take you up to six days to get over the jet lag.

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The reason is that there seem to be ‘molecular brakes,’ which prevent your internal clock from adjusting rapidly to the new dark/light cycle (aka your circadian rhythms). Mice can do this very quickly but humans cannot. Researchers are looking at ways that we could apply these molecular brakes to our body clocks. Once that is discovered, we should be able to face a long-haul flight with confidence and relax.

These advances in science will help treat many mental illnesses that are caused by internal clocks not working properly. Schizophrenia and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are two that spring to mind.

Fortunately for us, there are several things we can do to reduce the effects of jet lag. Here are six practical ways to deal with it.

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1. Plan ahead

When booking a long-haul flight, choose your departure time carefully if you are given a choice. Opting for an overnight flight means that you can sleep more easily and your arrival time in the afternoon or morning will make it easier for your body clock to adjust.

Another good idea is to save up your frequent flier miles and book first class. The extra comfort of fully reclining seats will help you sleep better.

2. Go to bed earlier or later before you leave

Heading east? Start going to bed just half an hour or an hour earlier for four or more nights before you leave. You are helping your body clock to get used to the new time zone before leaving. If you are heading west, try going to bed later and later.

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3. Adjust your watch when you leave

Most airlines tell you to change your watch when you arrive. A helpful suggestion is to actually do that when you leave. In this way, you are making mental adjustments and thinking about what is happening at your destination and what the routine will be when you arrive.

4. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water during the flight

Because the cabin is pressurized, the humidity levels are very low. As our bodies are mostly made of water, dehydration in this atmosphere is a risk. The solution is to drink plenty of water before, during and after the flight. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol as they are diuretics and will only worsen dehydration, which can leave you feeling weak, nauseous, shaky and confused. Now you know why pilots have to drink so much water!

Don’t forget to get as much movement as you can during the flight. I know there is not much room, but an aisle seat can really help here as you can stretch your legs and go for a little walk without disturbing anyone.

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5. Meds may help

Consider taking a sleeping aid if you are comfortable with it and if you normally take one. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when you are eastbound, it helps you to feel more alert on the first few days, thus alleviating the effects of jet lag. Other people swear by melatonin, which is a natural hormone produced by the body to regulate your sleep-wake patterns. Try taking it for a few nights before you leave. It seems to help the body clock adjust when you get to your destination.

6. Get some sunlight if you can

On arrival, exposure to sunlight (weather and time zones permitting) will help you adjust to the new time. Getting out and doing things helps as well, so resist the urge to lock yourself up in your hotel room and fall asleep immediately, if you can. I made this mistake when I arrived in Los Angeles after a flight from Europe. It took me ages to adjust my body clock!

Try some light exercise too. A few stretching routines can really get your joints moving again. It also helps your mood. When it comes to eating, try to follow the normal mealtimes where you are, although that may mean a snack at a very strange time! Snoozing is all right too but try to avoid a long sleep until it is bedtime in your new location.

One thing to consider, if you really suffer from jet lag, is to fly north or south on the same meridian. No time zones to worry about and you only get tired from the journey. Unfortunately, there’s a more limited range of destinations, though!

Featured photo credit: Jet lag/gavdana via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Freelance writer

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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