Jet lag is a real thing
If you are a frequent traveler you already know what it is like to be hit with jet lag. This phenomenon is stressful, irritating, but also very predictable. There are ways to reduce the effects on your body. Learn how to reduce the time it takes to adjust to the new time zone. If you are a very happy person, you may not even experience it.
The first time I went overseas, I didn't give a single thought to how I was going to deal with jet lag. It was my first international flight and, years later, the longest I've ever taken. It took more than 24 hours to get from Germany to Australia. Needless to say, upon arriving in Sydney, Australia, I was completely sleepless, stressed out, and began to hallucinate.
The jet lag was especially hard to bear as I arrived in Sydney at 7am in the early morning. It took me more than 5 days to get used to the new time zone and I hope none of you have to endure this. By the time you read this you will have a better understanding of what jet lag really is and why it actually happens to our bodies.
Understanding the problem is not enough, so use the quick tips here to minimize the effects jet lag has on your body!
What jet lag really is
You may have heard that our body has a built-in clock. Not literally a clock, but it's made up of many cells with a specific gene that tells the other parts of the body what time it is and when to start "working". The so-called circadian rhythm regulates our behavior and activities and uses sunlight to determine whether the body should begin to calm down and prepare for sleep or to start the day over. A disturbance in the circadian rhythm can prevent you from falling asleep at night and getting tired the next day.
Back in 2013, a research team at Oxford University said they had found a "molecular brake" that prevents light from resetting our body clock. Which makes sense since you don't want the moonlight to affect our body clock. Even artificial light from digital devices would have a massive impact on our built-in clock if they had an impact. The molecular brake does not completely prevent us from resetting the internal clock, it only slows down the process.
In general, sunlight acts like a reset button to keep our body clock in sync. However, when we fly around the world and experience less / more sunlight than usual, we begin to experience fatigue or what is known as jet lag.
How jet lag affects us
Some readers may now say, "Okay, so you're just feeling a little tired. It's no big deal". I can then say with confidence that you have not yet experienced serious jet lag, and I hope you never will. Imagine symptoms of absolute tiredness and fatigue, lack of awareness and extreme confusion. It's like your body and mind are no longer one. Combined with the potential culture shock and other environmental impact on you, it can become a real problem in the first few days after arrival.
How to beat jet lag
I know it sounds unsettling and I hope I didn't scare you before flying away on your first long haul flight. The only really helpful way to avoid the symptoms of jet lag is simply to adjust to the new time zone faster. There are a couple of ways that can help your body adjust to it quickly. Find the ones that work best for you as a combination and feel grateful that you are not one of them to experience jet lag.
Start adjusting your schedule at home.
Are you traveling east - west - or vice versa? Most people struggle to adjust when they fly east. When traveling from Europe to America, you have to get up early and go to bed a little later. It's like a long night of partying and you just fall asleep a few hours later than you normally would.
Traveling from Europe to Asia is a slightly different story. In this case, you will sleep much earlier than usual in order to stay in a perfect rhythm and adapt your body as quickly as possible. If possible, choose your flight schedule so that you will arrive at your destination in the late afternoon. With this option, all you have to do is stay awake a few hours longer instead of trying to get through the day feeling tired from an early morning arrival.
Arriving in the late afternoon is perfect for taking a taxi ride, getting to your hotel, getting used to the new surroundings, and enjoying a lovely dinner at a local restaurant.
Set your watch to the new time zone.
Be mentally prepared for your new time zone. Once you've set foot on the plain, set your watch to the new local time. Force yourself to stay awake until it is fairly late enough to fall asleep.
Adjusting the sleep-wake rhythm
You've already adjusted your schedule at home, but here are two simple rules to combat jet lag while on the plane - If you're flying east, get comfortable and sleep as soon as possible. If you're flying west, stay awake as long as possible - enjoy the onboard food and entertainment system.
Eat the right food & not too much
Enjoy the fantastic cuisine on board and in the airports, but only for a reasonable price. Pasta, burgers, rice and potatoes can make you feel very full, heavy and therefore really tired. Eggs, fish, and meat, on the other hand, are just enough not to make you feel hungry, but they also don't make you feel fatigued. Depending on the direction you are flying in - choose your food wisely.
Drink only water
Always drink plenty of water when you fly! It can sound attractive to have a glass of wine or beer while you are high up in the sky. Some of you will fall asleep more easily when you drink alcohol, but it dehydrates the body. In combination with the dry air in an airplane, it accelerates the drainage process and makes it difficult to adapt to the new time zone. You shouldn't drink coffee or tea for the same reason. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Just relax for the first few days.
Sitting on a long haul flight and all the other stressful situations that you have experienced before put a strain on your body. Take it easy and listen to your body for the first few days. If you feel tired, don't go on a day trip to discover your new surroundings. It takes time for your body to get used to the new surroundings and to get used to the new food, new smells, and new culture. Keep the first few days nice and simple.
Know your planes
It's no secret that technology is advancing and it doesn't stop with airplanes. The latest generation has an improved air purification system that circulates and frequently refreshes the air in the aircraft. Not only are the aircraft more comfortable, the new built-in LED systems are also able to simulate more realistic daylight phases. This can have a small impact on reducing the effects of jet lag.
Cut your flight in half
I'm still a big fan of several shorter flights than a direct flight to my destination. Not only do I enjoy exploring the airports, but it's also very relaxing for me. Getting off the plane, walking around, being able to stretch my body. You can even take a shower at the airport to feel fresh again. Always exercise some movement when you are on the plane. Go around stretching to relax all muscles.
Avoid sleeping pills
Please avoid sleeping pills at all costs. They will only do worse for you in the long run as you will wake up dizzy and confused. Better to snuggle up in the blankets provided, put on an eye mask and listen to music or audio books. Try to get some sleep this way.
Avoid jet lag driving back home.
By now you know how your body reacted to the previous long-haul flight. Follow the same tips or make some necessary adjustments to the preparations to avoid jet lag when you return home.
You can't make it worse.
All of these tips & tricks are nice, but absolutely not useful if you just cross a few time zones. If so, then you should consider not preparing for it at all. As a rule of thumb, only prepare for a change in your sleep behavior if you are traveling across more than 3 time zones to be on the safe side.
Note that these tips will only help you reduce the effects, they will not help you get rid of your symptoms completely.
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