Jet lag happens when you alter your circadian cycle, which is your body’s natural internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This cycle repeats roughly every 24 hours. Entering a new time zone rapidly – for example when travelling by plane, creates a disconnect between your internal time and external environment.
Typically, the amount of sunlight you take in from day to day is close to the same. Even though it varies seasonally, the change is gradual enough for your body to adjust. However, when you travel by aeroplane and quickly cross time zones, the change is dramatic. When you arrive in a new time zone, your body is still set to the sun patterns from your home location. You’re getting light when your body is used to it being dark, and vice versa, and that disrupts your internal clock.
“Believe it or not, any time zone shift is enough to have an impact – think about daylight savings time and how that one hour can wreak havoc for the following week.”
Together with Dr Robbins we dive into how to combat the jet lag, to ensure you enjoy your time away.
Time your flight
If you can, try to schedule a flight so that the local time of your destination is close to the time you usually wake up. Many flights that cross multiple time zones are intentionally scheduled so that they land in the morning. This may mean you have to leave home at an odd time of day, however, if you want to combat the jet lag, your time of arrival is important.
In the week leading up to your journey start to gradually move your sleeping time by 15 minutes each night. This will allow your body to ease itself into the new time zone. If you are heading west, it’ll help to start going to bed later, whereas if you are heading east, an earlier night will be best. It’s also important to keep this routine up after your departure to the new time zone to combat the jet lag.
Remember to relax
By using the time spent on the plane to relax, you’ll allow your body to prepare for tackling time change. A pair of earplugs and an eye mask are great at helping you get extra sleep. Aeroplane cabins can induce dehydration, so drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and coffee is another way to calm your body. When it comes to food, it’s key to keep it light, and fresh and give your body time to digest properly in-between meals.
Make a move
If you are on a long-haul flight, it’s crucial to keep your blood flowing during the flight. So make sure to get into a habit of doing a gentle stretch and a walk around the cabin every couple of hours. By moving about, we restore oxygen to our muscles, which prevents aches and cramps. It might help to set a timer, to remind you to get up every 2-3 hours.
Limit your light exposure
If you arrive at your destination early in the morning, it’ll do wonders for your body to enjoy a dose of Vitamin D from the sun. However, as the day progresses try to move into shaded areas and spend time away from light – including artificial light in the evening to allow your brain to enter rest mode.
Live in the new time zone
When you arrive at your destination, try to forget your old time zone as quickly as possible. Your technology will likely update clocks automatically, but if you have a manually set watch or travel clock, set those to the new time as soon as you depart. You’ll have trouble adjusting to your destination if you continue living according to the old time zone. Eat meals and go to bed according to the time at your destination.
To discover more about the importance of quality sleep and learn about additional tips for sleeping through time changes, read our recent articles with Savoir’s sleep expert, Dr Rebecca Robbins.