Combating Jet Lag for Better Health
Jet lag results from rapidly traveling through multiple time zones, resulting in sickly feelings and exhaustion. Science tells us jet lag stems from a disturbance to the circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake pattern, when we experience daylight and darkness contrary to our natural rhythms.
The University of Washington published a study that shows the biology behind jet lag–a disruption in two separate but linked groups of neurons call the suprachiasmatic nucleus. You can read more about the science of it here.
When on a volunteer trip, you won’t have time to cope from jet lag. Good thing you can influence your internal clock before you travel, and there are ways to cope once you arrive at your destination.
Combat jet lag before you leave:
Alter your sleep cycle
Think about how much time you’re going to lose or gain based on your destination. Are you arriving mid-afternoon? Will your plane fly through the night? Do your best to adjust your internal clock before departing by going to bed a few hours earlier or later. Only sleep on your flight if it will help adjust your internal clock to the new time zone.
Make sure any underlying medical conditions are under control before you travel. This includes getting up-to-date vaccines, taking allergy medications, and getting plenty of rest. Otherwise jet lag won’t be your only problem!
Eat on time
Even more so than light exposure, our stomachs run our internal clocks. Try to adjust your eating schedule before you go by eating at times the locals would in your destination’s time zone. This might mean eating brunch rather than lunch or foregoing the on-flight dinner.
You may be tempted to combat the tiredness with a steamy Starbuck’s espresso, but it won’t help in the long run. Drinking coffee will actually prolong your recovery time and dehydrate you. You don’t want a headache on top of jet lag, do you? You should also limit your alcohol intake, because it will only increase your tiredness.
Instead, stick with water to keep your body happy and hydrated.
Soak up the sun
Hopefully you booked a flight when you arrive during the day. This immediately helps you overcome jet lag by stimulating your senses and encouraging you to start off strong. If time allows, roam outside when you arrive–even if you’d rather take a nap. Exposing your body to the sun’s rays will help adjust your sleep-wake patterns in no time.
Jet lag is no way to start your volunteer trip. Take as many preventatives as you can. Experiment a little. Some things may work better than others for you, and apparently jet lag has different effects if you’re traveling east or west, so keep that in mind!
Photo: Jessica Abt