circadian rhythm, fatigue, how to cope with jetlag, jetlag, travelling internationally

If you’ve ever travelled internationally on a long distance flight then chances are, you’ve probably experienced jetlag. Sometimes it can take days to recover from, which isn’t ideal if you’re on a quick trip and you spend three days trying to get over it before you have to turn around and come home again.  So what is jetlag and how can we deal with it?  Read on to find out…

Jetlag is a combination of symptoms including fatigue, irritability, memory lapses and digestive upsets which occur after we have travelled quickly across different time zones on an aeroplane.

Why do we get jetlag?

Our bodies work on a 24 hour circadian rhythm which means that we are synced to day and night by sunlight and brain chemicals, so when we travel to a different time zone, we’re interfering with that rhythm.  Most people will find that travelling in an easterly direction gives the worst jetlag and this is because your day is shortened and your body has to cut its natural 24hour cycle.

What can I do to reduce the severity of jetlag before I go?

  • In the days leading up to your trip ensure that you get plenty of sleep, as sleep deprivation can make jetlag even worse.
  • If you’re going to be travelling eastbound then adjust your bedtime in the days before your trip, making it an hour earlier each night.  Similarly, if you’re going to be travelling westbound then shift your bedtime back an hour later each night.  This should help you to adapt to the new time zone.

And what about when I’m on the plane?

  • Once you’ve stepped onto the plane, get into the mindset of the new time zone at your destination and adjust your watch accordingly.
  • It’s ok to sleep whenever you are feeling sleepy but most importantly, you should try and plan your sleep as if you are already on the same time as your destination.
  • Avoid alcohol altogether or at the very least limit the number of alcoholic drinks your have during the flight.  Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and flying at high altitudes also makes you feel like you’ve had double the amount of alcohol you’ve actually had.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat light meals as your digestion can be sluggish when flying.
  • Get up and move around the cabin as often as possible.

When I arrive at my destination what can I do?

Sunlight is the most important factor when resetting your circadian rhythm so avoid bunkering down in the hotel room if it’s daytime at your destination – the best thing you can do is get out and about and coordinate your sleep with the local time as soon as possible.  If you land in the afternoon then try and stay awake until the evening but if you land very early in the morning then try to get a couple of hours sleep only, before you stay awake for the rest of the day.

Do you have any tips for easing jetlag?  We’d love to know!

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