If you’ve ever flown across the country to land in a different time zone than the one you’re used to, you’ve probably had a bout of jet lag. According to Medical News Today, jet lag occurs when individuals rapidly relocate from east to west or west to east, a move that quickly upsets their circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the physiological and behavioral cycle that your body relies on for establishing sleep patterns, hormone regulation, body temperature and hunger signals within a 24-hour period.
When you travel across time zones, as travelers going from east to west, do, your circadian rhythm becomes unbalanced. Travelers then feel tired, lethargic and often cranky. They may have trouble adjusting and their symptoms may worsen as their trip goes on.
Preventing Jet Lag
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent jet lag, you can decrease the likelihood that you’ll experience it by adjusting your schedule in the days before you leave. WebMD suggests moving your bedtime around in half hour increments several days before your trip to get it closer to the time you’d go to bed in the new time zone. You can also move meal times and wake up times gradually in the same way.
Another recommendation made by many doctors is to eat well and drink water before leaving. The healthier your body is before you go, the less of a toll the adjustment will take on you. By paying attention to your diet and focusing on being hydrated, you can give yourself a strong foundation of good health.
For a Cure, Try Melatonin
About.com suggests taking melatonin supplements in order to help your body adjust to the time zone. Melatonin is a natural hormone that your brain secretes to help control your circadian rhythm. Since melatonin release is determined by the amount of light you’re exposed to each day, crossing time zones and getting extended exposure to the sun can reduce your body’s natural secretion, which can result in sleeplessness.
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure that a melatonin supplement won’t interact poorly with your other medications and to find out the proper dosage amount for you.
All Natural: Monitored Light Exposure
If you can’t rely on melatonin, you might instead consider trying to limit your exposure to light in order to fool your body into producing the melatonin you need when it otherwise wouldn’t. According to The New York Times, members of NASA’s fatigue management team suggest carefully monitoring your exposure to sunlight as you travel in order to advance your body clock so that it adjusts to your new time zone. So, if you take off in a time zone while the sun is shining, but it’s not shining in the time zone you’re headed toward, you would wear sunglasses and keep shades drawn to help prevent the sun exposure.
Travelers Health Insurance
It’s sometimes difficult to determine what symptoms are caused by jet lag and which might be something more serious. When you travel abroad, your domestic health insurance policy doesn’t cover your medical treatment, so make sure that you secure travelers health insurance before you leave. Then, whether it’s jet lag or the flu, you can get medical attention and treatment without completely breaking your budget.
Add a Few Days to the Trip
If you take very short trips then you may never give your body enough time to adjust to the new time zone. This could mean you have a miserable trip, from start to finish. To avoid that fate, you may want to add extra time to your trips so that you can take a few days to adjust and normalize. Experts suggest that for every time zone you pass, you need a full day in order for your body to catch up. While it may not be possible or practical to add a full day to your trip for every new time zone, even adding an extra day or two, and trying some of the methods above, could help you reduce your jet lag. But keep in mind, you may want to add a few days to adjust once you get back home as well.