Ah, jet lag. The bane of those who travel across multiple time zones at once. Jet lag is really a set of symptoms that occur when the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, is disrupted. Our body clock tells the body when it’s time to sleep, wake up, eat – basically what we need to do to function every day.
Light plays a role in regulating our internal body clock – it’s like we are “activated” when the sun comes up and slow down when it gets dark. If our exposure to sunlight suddenly changes dramatically, it becomes difficult for the body to adjust, resulting in daytime fatigue, stress, lack of focus, disturbed sleep and difficulty in simply functioning – common symptoms of jet lag.
The intensity and duration of the symptoms depends on the number of time zones you cross. The farther you travel, the greater the symptoms will be.
There’s really just one way to overcome jet lag: You need to adjust to the new time zone faster. Here’s how to do just that.
Know the local time where you’re going and adjust your schedule beforehand
Adjusting the body clock takes more effort when you travel east. Advancing our internal clock is harder than delaying it – you may have experienced having a hard time going to bed much earlier than usual. It’s easier to fight off sleep and sleep later.
So you don’t shock your body into adjusting immediately, you can advance or delay your body clock gradually to simulate your new schedule. If possible, start doing so several days before your trip. Try delaying or advancing an hour at first, then two, until your internal body clock is in tune with that of the local time where you’re going.
On the other hand, if your trip is short – say, three days – and you’re not going to travel more than three time zones (or three hours away), it would probably be better to stay on home time. Adjusting to the local time in a major way may not be worth the effort. You’ll be back to your usual schedule in no time anyway.
Control your exposure to light
Another way to adjust to a new time zone quickly is by controlling your light exposure. This method is connected to the previous one. To help you adjust easily to the new time zone, avoid and seek out light at the right times. If you’re heading east, seek morning light; if you’re traveling west, avoid morning light and seek late afternoon light instead.
Consider taking melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone the brain releases to regulate our internal body clock. It can also be taken as a supplement to aid sleep so that you can adjust to a new time zone quicker. Just a small dose at the bedtime hour in the new time zone will help to make you fall asleep until your circadian rhythm catches up. It’s not for everyone however, so consult your physician first if this would be a good option for you.
Where are you going and for how long? Which of these methods do you think is the most doable for you?