For those who have never experienced it, jet lag is pretty unpleasant. Insomnia, daytime tiredness and gastrointestinal problems are the main symptoms which takes its toll on our bodies. But what exactly causes jet lag? And what’s the best way to cure it?
Here at GoEuro, we wanted to find out so we got in touch with two experts on the subject.
We consulted with Dr. Eastman from the Biological Rhythms Research lab at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago and with Jay Olson, M.Sc. Psychiatry Dept. at McGill University, who created a website called www.jetlagrooster.com. The website lets people enter their trip details and get their very own jet lag battle plan, which may help them to reduce the symptoms of jet lag.
Jet lag is the effect on our bodies following the disturbance of our body clocks. Our internal body clock contains a group of 20,000 nerve cells located in an area of our brain, just above the optic nerves behind the eyes.
When we fly across several time zones, traveling east or west, we disrupt this group of cells, as they need time to adjust to the change and to the different hours of daylight. This can lead to typical jet lag symptoms such as insomnia.
Dr Eastman defines jet lag as “…when you travel to another time zone, your body and your internal body clock remain on your home time zone. Then, gradually, by about an hour a day (sometimes more or less) your clock resets or shifts to the new time zone. Jet lag only happens when you cross time zones, going east or west, but not when traveling north or south. In that case you might experience travel fatigue, but that is not jet lag.”
Timed light and dark exposure.
The key to avoiding symptoms of jet lag is timed light and dark exposure. Calculating the best time to get this exposure can be tricky because you have to consider the number of time zones you’ll be crossing and what time it is at your destination.
Jay Olsen states: “Calculating when to get light exposure is challenging. I created Jet Lag Rooster to help travelers know when they should get bright light exposure and when they should avoid light (e.g., wearing sunglasses or staying indoors). Beyond this, to reduce general fatigue, we recommend that travelers drink a lot of water, eat fruit, take a shower, and have a brief nap if needed.”
Prepare a pre-flight sleep schedule
Following a sleep schedule with timed light and darkness exposure prior to your flight is a good way to reduce the symptoms of jet lag. It will give your internal clock a kickstart on the impending time zone change.
Here’s a pre-flight schedule example from London to New York (By Dr. Eastman)
“Four nights before flying – if you usually sleep from midnight to 7 am, then get some bright light from 10 pm to midnight. The light can be intermittent, so you can take breaks from the light box. Stay indoors for a few hours after waking. If you have to go out, use dark sunglasses. Those that are dark and are also called “blue blockers” are good.
Three nights before flying – the next night go to bed 1 hour later, at 1 am, after getting bright light from 11 pm to 1 am. Try to sleep until 8 am or later, and then stay indoors for a few hours.
Two nights before flying – the following night go to bed at 2 am, after getting bright light from midnight to 2 am, and try to sleep until 9 am or later. Avoid bright light for a few hours after that.
One night before flying – the next night go to bed at 3 am, after getting some bright light from 1 am to 3 am, and try to sleep until 10 am or later. If you are sleeping from 3 am to 10 am in London, that’s the equivalent of 10 pm to 5 am in New York.
Night after flying – after the flight you will probably be able to sleep from 11 pm to 6 am in New York. You will wake up a little later naturally during the next few days. If you wake up before 6 am on the first few nights, don’t lie in bed if you really can’t sleep it’s better to get up and do something in dim lighting.”
What are some other ways to avoid jet lag?
We asked our in-house travel experts at GoEuro about what they think is the best way to avoid jet lag before taking off.
Catherine: If you prefer to spend your flight asleep it may be best to turn off that in-flight movie and pull a sleep mask over your eyes. The light exposure from the screen will only keep you awake longer as the brightness can mess with your internal body clock.
Catriona: Before jetting off, put together a small flying kit which you can bring on in your hand luggage with earplugs, a sleep mask, a neck pillow and whatever else may help ease the long flight time.
Hannah: If you want to freshen up before you land, bring some face wipes and a small tub of moisturizer onboard with you. It will help kickstart your jet lag recovery.
Sebastian: I like to make sure everything is prepared for my trip before I take off, like transport from the airport to my accommodation, especially if I’m traveling with my family.
Are there any quick remedies for jet lag post-flight?
Hannah: This may sound strange, but I found wearing sunglasses indoors helps me get over jet lag a lot sooner. I believe this comes down to the smaller amount of light.
Catherine: If I’m taking a longer trip abroad I like to spend one day catching up on my sleep after a long flight. This way I can enjoy the rest of the trip without feeling really tired and groggy!
Sebastian: Water, water, water! It’s the best thing for getting rid of that drowsiness that comes with flying long-distance!
These are our tips to ease the symptoms of jet lag – We hope they help! Have you experienced jet lag? Let us know below in the comments section your best jet lag remedy or pre-flight tip.
Looking for a budget break when coming to Europe? Why not check out our top tips to planning your Europe trip.
Dr. Eastman creates personalized no-jet-lag schedules. If you would like to get advice, please contact Dr. Eastman at least 3 weeks before your flight. E-mail: [email protected].