The human body has a rhythm called the circadian clock that tells us when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake.
Flying across multiple time zones disrupts this clock and causes jet lag. Symptoms can begin immediately or set in a few days after arrival.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is a common disorder that happens when you travel quickly across multiple time zones. It occurs when your body clock – known as the circadian rhythm – doesn’t sync with the new time zone you’re in.
A disruption in your circadian rhythm can lead to symptoms like sleep problems, fatigue, poor mood, difficulty functioning, and a stomach ache. You should expect to feel these symptoms within a day or two after you cross several time zones, especially eastward travel (where you “lose” hours).
The best way to fight jet lag is to reset your body clock by getting plenty of sunlight during the day. This helps your body produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates when you’re awake and sleepy.
You can also change your meal schedule and avoid eating large meals right before you go to bed. Drinking caffeine and alcohol can make the symptoms of jet lag worse.
Jet lag is caused when your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) is out of synchronization with your new time zone. Your circadian rhythm sets the times you need to eat, sleep, and wake up.
It’s also responsible for the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. When light enters your eyes, cells send signals to the brain that melatonin should be released.
Symptoms of jet lag can include fatigue, difficulty staying awake, and stomach problems like constipation or diarrhea. It can also affect your ability to work, study, or do other activities.
To minimize the effects of jet lag, it’s important to drink plenty of water before and during your flight. It’s especially important to hydrate on flights that cross multiple time zones as cabin pressure and high altitudes can make it harder for you to stay hydrated.
Jet lag symptoms typically begin 1 to 2 days after traveling across at least two time zones. They tend to be worse and longer lasting the farther you travel.
This is because the human body’s circadian rhythm uses sunlight to control how much melatonin your body makes, which determines when you feel sleepy or awake. But when the sun is dimmer, your body slows down melatonin production to get you ready for bedtime.
It can take your body a day or more to recover from crossing multiple time zones, but you can avoid some of the symptoms with a few simple strategies.
To avoid jet lag, try to adjust your eating schedule before you leave. If you are flying east to west, go to bed early and wake up later to help your body adjust to the new schedule.
Jet lag can be treated with strategies like adjusting your sleep schedule before you leave and adapting to the new time at your destination. Your primary care physician or a sleep specialist can help you develop these techniques and determine the best approach for you.
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The goal is to minimize your symptoms so you can enjoy your vacation or business trip without having to worry about it. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you sleep if these strategies don’t work.
Some medicines, such as melatonin, are available over the counter to help you adjust to your new time zone. However, these medicines can have side effects and should only be used as a last resort.
Other ways to beat jet lag include changing your meal times, using natural sunlight, and exercising outdoors. You can also try meditation or visualization techniques to calm your mind and body before bed. Ultimately, your body will naturally adjust to the new time zone.