Tens of millions of Americans fly each year each year, often crossing time zones and experiencing the unpleasant travel phenomenon known as jet lag.
Jet lag is a disruption of the circadian rhythm, the body’s internal 24-hour clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles, appetite and body temperature. Symptoms of jet lag include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, irritability, dizziness, gastrointestinal dysfunction and difficulty concentrating.
The good news is that there are several scientifically-proven methods that can help alleviate the symptoms of jet lag, and help you adjust to a new rhythm faster. So the next time your travel entails crossing two or more time zones, consider trying these tips.
1. Adjust Your Watch to the New Time Zone a Few Days Before Your Trip
It takes time for the body to adjust to a new sleep-wake cycle and daily schedule, so the more time you give yourself, the faster your body will sync up to the local time when you arrive at your destination. It’s recommended that you set your watch to the new time zone a few days before you fly, so your body can gradually adjust to the new schedule.
By adjusting your watch before you fly, you’ll be less likely to experience jet lag symptoms, and more likely to feel alert, refreshed and energized when you land.
2. Fast on the Flight
Your circadian rhythm influences your appetite (when and how much you eat). But conversely, eating can influence your circadian rhythm. If you suddenly begin taking meals at different times than your body was used to eating at home, it can exacerbate the symptoms of jet lag. Researchers have found that fasting for 16 hours before you touch down at your destination can help your body’s internal clock reset itself, so it’s ready to sync up with your new time zone (and new eating schedule) as soon as you land.
(Note: If you’re pregnant or have diabetes or other health conditions, please consult a medical professional before engaging in fasting. Fasting is also not recommended for young children.)
3. Adjust Your Light Exposure
The circadian rhythm is controlled by a cluster of 20,000 neurons that sits close to the optic nerve (the nerve that connects the retina to the brain), so it’s strongly affected by changes in light exposure. Scientists have discovered that travelers can use this to their advantage by altering their light exposure to help adjust their circadian rhythm to the new time zone faster.
When traveling east, it’s recommended that you avoid light in the early morning hours and seek light in the late morning and early afternoon. When traveling west, it’s recommended that you seek light in the morning, and avoid light in the late afternoon and early evening hours.
For travelers seeking light, natural sunlight is preferable. But you can also use a light box, or maximize the lights in your living space.
To avoid light exposure, consider wearing an eye mask, lowering the window shades on your flight, and closing the blinds and turning down the lights in your living space.
4. Get Aerobic Exercise
In addition to its myriad health benefits, several studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise helps combat jet lag as well! Exercise helps to oxygenate your brain so you can think more clearly and feel more alert. Exercise also stimulates the release of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters that can decrease irritability and fatigue, and increase your sense of well-being. Consider exercising outdoors at your destination during daylight hours to combine the benefits of exercise with the effectiveness of natural sunlight in adjusting your circadian rhythm to your new time zone.
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