Whether you’re an avid wanderluster or only travel a few times a year, you know the struggle is real when it comes to jet lag symptoms.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is the term used to describe the undesirable symptoms we experience when traveling through several time zones. Some people experience very few and mild symptoms of jet lag, such as drowsiness, while others feel like they’ve just stepped off another planet.
Whether or not you get jet lagged from traveling will depend on how long your flight is and which direction you’re traveling in. Jet lag symptoms are worse when you travel east (for example, from Canada to Australia), because you “lose hours” when a time zone is several hours ahead of your departure city.
You can still experience jet lag when traveling west, but the symptoms are typically milder because you “gain” hours, which is less taxing on your body. On the other hand, traveling north to south doesn’t cause severe jet lag symptoms because only 1-2 time zone changes are crossed.
How Jet Lag Affects Your Body
Losing hours from your day confuses your body’s circadian rhythm (natural sleep and wake cycle), which is influenced by environmental factors such as temperature and daylight. When your internal clock is out of balance, your appetite, energy levels, digestion and sleeping habits will also be disrupted.
To get a sense of what jet lag feels like, just imagine getting ready to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef when your body thinks it’s time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed. Your body isn’t alert and ready to swim with the fish. Instead, it’s desperately seeking your pillow. Needless to say, it’s best to hold off on the snorkeling fun for your own safety until the jet lag passes.
Jet Lag Symptoms
As mentioned above, jet lag impacts your body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates several functions in your body (1). Common symptoms of jet lag include:
- Digestive symptoms: constipation, indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, and acid reflux
- Loss of appetite
- Brain fog
- A lack of concentration and focus
- Fluctuations in body temperature and sweating
- Irregular periods for women
The symptoms of jet lag can last anywhere from 1-6 days. And as suggested above, the further east you travel, the more likely you are to experience symptoms of jet lag for an extended periods of time.
But can the symptoms of jet lag linger past recovery time, or have long-term effects?
According to research done by the University of California in Berkeley, the answer is yes: chronic jet lag may be linked to long-term cognitive impairment. In a study done on flight attendants, jet lag can elevate cortisol levels and impair cognitive function, although it’s unclear if the effects are long-term or temporary (2).
As you can see, taking care of your body with natural remedies for jet lag is a priority when traveling. And while jet lag can’t be avoided completely, there are ways to help prevent and reduce your symptoms so that jet lag doesn’t have to be a total vacation buzzkill.
Jet Lag Remedies
Here are natural ways to prevent and beat the symptoms of jet lag next time you’re getting ready to leave on a jet plane.
According to Harvard Medical School, being dehydrated can worsen the physical symptoms of jet lag (3). This is because dehydration may impair cognitive function, headaches, impair digestive function, and make you feel even more fatigued. It is therefore important to keep adequately hydrated before your trip, and drink plenty of water during your flight.
As a general guideline, the number of ounces of water you should be drinking each day is half of your body weight in pounds, divided by 2. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking 75 ounces of water, which is approximately 9 cups of water.
However, your water requirements will increase if you have a high activity level and if you drink dehydrating beverages, such as coffee and alcohol. So while the in-flight bar service can be oh-so-appealing, it’s best to avoid alcohol (and coffee) during your flight.
Rest Up Before Your Trip
Understandably, preparing for travel can result in late nights and trying to cram last minute tasks into busy days. But since jet lag leaves you feeling fatigued, it’s important to do all you can to be well rested before your flight.
If it’s difficult for you to add a few extra hours to your sleep routine, you can try improving the quality of the hours of sleep you do get instead. Avoiding caffeine past 2 pm, turning off all electronics before bed, and exercising in the afternoon are all easy ways to improve the quality of your sleep (4).
Adjust Your Sleep Schedule 1-2 Weeks Before Traveling
While it’s unrealistic to follow the exact sleep schedule of a new time zone, it can help to make slight modifications to your bedtime a few weeks before traveling. For example, if you’re traveling east and you’ll be losing 7 hours, try going to bed an hour earlier. If you’re traveling west and you’ll be gaining 7 hours, try going to bed an hour later.
Although it’s not a dramatic adjustment, making small tweaks to your sleep routine may make it easier to adjust to a new time zone.
Sleep on the Plane (And Don’t Forget Your Sleep Mask)
In general, traveling is tiresome—even if you’re not at risk for jet lag. However, sleeping on the plane is especially important if you’re traveling east because you lose several hours of rest.
Wearing a sleep mask can help you rest easier during your flight, as well as avoiding caffeine, energy drinks, and refined sugar, which can keep you awake.
Take an Adaptogenic Herb
Taking an adaptogenic herb, such as Siberian ginseng, may also help prevent and reduce jet lag symptoms (5). Adaptogens are herbs that help your body cope, or “adapt,” to stressful situations by regulating your body’s stress response (6).
Since jet lag is a form of stress on your body, adding a stress protective nutrient to your supplement routine before and during your trip may help reduce the negative effects of travel. In addition to ginseng, other popular adaptogenic herbs include ashwagandha, rhodiola and maca root. Since adaptogens may interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs, always be sure to check with a qualified healthcare practitioner prior to taking a new supplement.
Eat a Nutritious Meal After Landing
Avoiding junk food and instead, eating a well-balanced meal after your plane touches down, may also help reduce the symptoms of jet lag. And while any vitamin and mineral-rich meal will help support your body on a nutritional level, some nutrients are more helpful than others when it comes to adjusting your sleep schedule to a new time zone.
For example, carbohydrate-rich meals cause fluctuations in your insulin levels, which can leave you feeling drowsy (7). Therefore, if you arrive to your destination in the evening, having Paleo-friendly carbs, such as sweet potatoes and squash, may help you fall asleep sooner.
If it’s daytime when you arrive—and all your body wants to do is sleep—ordering energizing foods such as greens, fruit and vegetables can help provide you with the sustainable energy you need to last until bedtime.
Use the Light and Dark to Reset Your Sleep Schedule
Avoiding light and darkness at appropriate times can help your internal clock adjust. For example, when flying east, you may get off the plane when it’s 7 am, but your body may think it’s 11 pm. And while your internal clock may tell you to look for darkness so that you can sleep, it’s best to avoid closing the curtains in your hotel room and instead let the light shine through. This will signal to your body that it’s daytime, which will help your internal clock readjust to the time change.
Meditation is commonly recommended as an effective remedy to minimize jet lag. This is because some studies have shown meditation can help relieve insomnia, improve sleep quality and may even relieve digestive symptoms (8).
There are many different forms of meditation. You can meditate simply by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing for twenty minutes (which can be done at the airport or during your flight) until you feel like you’ve reached a relaxed state. iTunes also has guided meditation tracks specifically for jet lag that you can download to your smartphone.
There are several free meditation apps you may also enjoy using, such as Calm and Headspace.
A few other common recommendations for dealing with jet lag include avoiding naps during the day and incorporating relaxation techniques before bed such as gentle yoga, or having a warm bath. And hey—at the very least, being jet lagged is a great excuse to treat yourself to that Swedish massage.
(You’ll Also Love: How to Stay Paleo While Traveling)