What causes Jet Lag?
Our bodies are run on a roughly 24 hour cycle, called the circadian rhythm, where we are awake during the day and sleep at night. Quickly crossing time zones by flying upsets that circle. Our internal body clock becomes out of kilter with daytime and night time.
As anyone who has experienced it knows – this can result in feeling exhausted during the day only to lie awake at night or wake up after a few hours and lie their frustrated failing to go back to sleep. This is unpleasant and can seriously affect holidays and business trips.
I can fly West Ok but it really hits me going East.
Our circadian rhythms will adjust to the time zone but it can take from a few days to a week or more. Research has shown it is harder for the body to advance it [ref]. Staying up late when you fly West is easier than going to be early when you fly East. When it is 11pm in London it is only 3pm in Los Angles.
How can I treat Jet Lag?
The best treatment on arrival involves managing exposure to light on arrival at your destination. If you have flown East you want to make sure you expose yourself to some sunlight or bright lights from when it is around 7am back home. This will help your body clock to adjust. Then bring this time forward by about one hour a day until you are aligned with the local time. For example, if you have flown from Toronto to Paris, a six hour time difference, on the first day of your trip make sure you see are getting light from 1pm and for the rest of the day. The next day, get some light from 12pm and so on.
You may feel that having made that trip to Paris it would be wasteful to mope around in the dark in the morning with all those sights to visit!
An alternative approach is to accept you will get jet lag, set your watch to local time, get up when its morning and go to bed at night. Have a coffee to keep you going during the day. Don’t fret at night but try to maintain a calm and dark room.
Run on home time
If you are travelling across time zones for a short visit it might be better to keep your body clock on home time and adjust your schedule accordingly. Enjoy those late nights and lie ins.
If you are flying West then the time to expose yourself to light tends to be when it is daytime anyway. This may be part of the reason why people find it easier to fly west.
On the flight drink plenty of water. The low humidity found on many airplanes means sweat evaporates more quickly leading to dehydration. It’s another reason why we can feel rotten after a long flight.
Some people take melatonin to help promote sleep, however research is inconclusive as to whether this is because the melatonin adjusts the body clock or simply acts as a sleeping agent. You should, of course, see a doctor to discuss before taking melatonin. Self-medication is never the solution.