What causes jet lag?
The speed of travel has increased faster than our bodies can keep up. Our inbuilt circadian rhythm is programmed to our eating and sleeping habits, but when time zones are crossed these rhythms get out of sync, resulting in jet lag.
Also, going long periods without natural light makes the pineal gland secrete more melatonin. This increases drowsiness, making it even harder to adapt to new time zones.
Jet lag symptoms
Different people react in different ways to crossing time zones, but common symptoms of jet lag include:
- Stomach problems
- Loss of appetite
- Poor memory and concentration
- Irritability and headaches
- Sleep problems
- Daytime drowsiness
How long does it take to get over jet lag?
Age, stress levels, and general health all play a part in jet lag recovery, but it can take up to a full day to recover for each time zone crossed, especially when traveling east.
For example, it could take a week to recover from flying to Thailand from New York! Whether it’s a trip of a lifetime or yet another long-haul business trip, jet lag can wipe you out. However, if you plan ahead you’ll arrive feeling refreshed and ready to make the most of your travels.
7 ways to recover quickly from jet lag
1. Sleep well the night before
Whether you’re excited about your trip or have a hectic work schedule, it’s important to get more sleep in the 24-hour window before you travel than you normally would.
These extra hours of sleep will help offset sleep deficit accumulated during the course of your flight.
Melatonin plays an important role in sleep cycles and helps us feel sleepy prior to bed.
Melatonin levels rise at dusk and fall at dawn, but this is disrupted when time zones are crossed. Some research (suggested reading: “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag“) suggests that taking 0.5-5 mg Melatonin close to bedtime at your target destination helps alleviate jet lag symptoms and speeds up adjustment to your new time zone.
3. Plan your eating
Nutrition for jet lag relief is poorly understood, however, we recommend avoiding a big meal prior to bed when you arrive at your destination.
Large meals can lead to abdominal discomfort and interrupt sleep, especially when your body and (gut bacteria) are recalibrating to a new time zone.
4. Maritime Pine or Pycnogenol
Emerging evidence suggests that Pycnogenol may help alleviate jet lag symptoms. A small Italian study (suggested reading: Jet-lag: prevention with Pycnogenolshowed) that taking 50mg of Pycnogenol three times a day for seven days may be an effective jet lag treatment.
When started two days prior to travel, the control group struggled with jet lag for nearly 40 hours while those taking Pycnogenol saw a reduction in jet lag symptoms after just 18 hours.
5. Drink wisely
Naturally, you want to start your holiday in style, but we suggest skipping the pre-flight cocktails as alcohol dehydrates the body and disrupts sleep. Caffeine also impacts sleep and can delay recovery from jet lag.
Avoid caffeine after 3 pm in your new time zone to give yourself the best chance of feeling tired in the evening.
Instead of cocktails and coffee, stay hydrated by sipping water or non-caffeinated herbal teas regularly throughout your flight. A good indicator of hydration is urine that is lemonade-colored or lighter.
6. Reset your body and your watch
Anticipate changes in time zones by gradually changing waking up and going to bed routines.
Depending on your destination, wake up and go to bed either an hour earlier or later for up to three days before your flight. If travelling east, bring routines forward, and delay them when traveling west.
Then, set your watch to your destination time as soon as you’re on board, subtly tricking your body into new sleeping and eating patterns.
7. Get outside
Even if you’re tired on arrival, collapsing in front of the TV or napping isn’t always the best way to beat jet lag. Light exposure is a powerful determinant of circadian rhythms. Get outside and be active if you arrive at your destination during the day.
Light exposure blunts melatonin secretion and helps your body adjust to your new location.
The bottom line
While jet lag affects different people in different ways and to different extents, following these simple hacks may improve your jet lag recovery time.