Why do air travelers experience jet lag after a long-haul flight? And how to prevent or remedy it?

Jet lag is the general sense of exhaustion that goes along with long-haul flights. Also called desynchronosis or time zone syndrome, it happens when people travel quickly across different time zones.

It is a physiological condition that occurs when the body’s circadian rhythms or body clock is disrupted and causes a disorder. The circadian rhythm involves a 24-hour cycle that includes the physiological, behavioral, and biochemical processes in our bodies. All regulate specific activities, such as eating, sleeping and waking, and regulating body temperature.

Your body clock is synced to the time zone of the place where you are living and not to the destination you are traveling. The longer the flight, the more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to suffer from jet lag and its symptoms.

Jet lags symptoms appear to be worse when traveling from west to east. Common issues include headaches, irritability, lethargy, insomnia, and disorientation. Children, however, typically have less severe symptoms and tend to recover quicker.

There is actually no treatment for the condition. However, particular preparation and adjustments in lifestyle can significantly help minimize its effects.

First, you must ensure that you have sound physical health. People who are physically fit tend to have milder symptoms as compared to those who are not. Engage in different physical activities, get enough rest, and consume a well-balanced diet to boost your health.

Second, you must be able to control any underlying condition you have, especially heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. The presence of the given conditions may make the jet lag’s symptoms worse. If ever you are bound for a long-haul flight, consult for advice or any medication.

Other adjustments before leaving involve picking flights that land early evening in the local time, so you may sleep around 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Make sure to adjust your sleeping time several days prior to your travel. If you are going westward, go to bed later than usual. If you are bound eastward, strive to go to bed earlier.

It would help if you would change your watch to the time zone of the destination you are going to upon boarding the plane. It can condition your mind and aid in establishing a new rhythm.

Also, stay active during the flight itself by doing simple exercises, such as walking along the aisle or stretching. 

Then, use earplugs or eye masks, and get ideal naps. Look at your watch and aim to sleep when it is night-time at the place you are bound to. If you are sleepy and it is daytime at your destination, take only 20-minute naps to reduce your sleepiness. Drink a lot of water and avoid caffeine or alcohol intake to prevent dehydration.

One study also showed that wearing sunglasses during the long-haul flight may help fight jetlag’s symptoms. It can aid the body to adjust to the new time zone by changing the light patterns.

Once you arrive at the destination, avoid engaging in strenuous exercise or heavy meals right away, not until your body has adjusted accordingly. Moreover, spend time outside, especially in sunlight. And, sleep during night-time in the time zone of your destination.

Individuals who experience severe jet lag symptoms may consider breaking the journey into separate flights or traveling on land instead, if possible.

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Jet lag (Wikipedia)

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