Flying across time zones wreaks havoc on our internal clocks. It takes the body about one day per time zone to fully recover from jet lag.
We are a chronically sleep-deprived society, thanks to demands of our jobs and personal lives. We’re extending our waking hours, convincing ourselves that we don’t need to sleep as much. But when we make his a habit, we end up with a sleep debt and suffer from fatigue.
“Jetlag is a psychological condition that is mainly caused by the alteration of the circadian rhythm. We normally get used to certain round way rhythm in a particular time zone. Hence, the neurotransmitters aligns all the body functions in a certain rhythm like when you are supposed to sleep, think, drink,” says Dr Gerald Ruzindana, a body wellness specialist and nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet in Kigali, Rwanda.
“Travelling through different time zones disrupts the normal rhythm. You can also experience the same condition when you change your work environment or change from a night to a day shift. It happens to doctors, nurses and even police officers,” he adds.
It takes about two days to eliminate any sleep debt within a personal normal schedule.
“What happens when you have jetlag is that your brain ceases to be in control which results in poor feedback from the neurotransmitters. Your brain restructures your sleep cycle. It usually takes about two days—a weekend—to eliminate sleep debt with a person’s normal schedule; three days if they’re working nights or going across time zones,” says Dr Ruzindana.
Here are several ways to combat jet lag and recover faster.
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For five or seven days trip, start a week before departure by delaying your bed time if you’re flying West, or going to be earlier if you’re flying East to match your destination zone.
If work allows, start adjusting your waking time as well and go into work earlier or later.
If you’re flying half way around the world, it may not be convenient to shift your schedule by 12 hours, but adding or subtracting a few hours will make the transition easier.
Once you arrive at a new time zone, if you will be there for less than three days, try to stay on your home clock.
A stay of longer than three days will need you to get on the new time zone right away. Also eat lighter meals at the right time, stay awake until local night time, and when you wake up in the morning, expose yourself to sunlight.
On a flight crossing time zones, try to take a nap because nothing beats sleeping in a bed or somewhere comfortable as the most important activity for recovery.
Eat on time
In addition to changing your sleep patterns, changing your eat patterns a few days before will help your body adjust as well.
You don’t want to wake up at 3am because your body thinks its 8am and time for breakfast. Pack snacks or save airlines meals and eat at appropriate times, but minimise the amount of caffeine that you drink, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
When you’re sleep deprived, you crave high sugar and high-fat foods. But if you eat them, you’ll get the ”crash” and your body will slow down to a point of drowsiness.
Try to consume a high protein diet, and a little tea or coffee if you wish to speed up your system and keep you awake.
But on the other hand if if you wish to slow down your metabolism because you will arrive at the new time zone at night, then have a high carbohydrate meal, while avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or sugars so that you can fall asleep as soon as you arrive.
Set your watch and sleep cycles
As soon as you begin your flight, set your watch to your destination time. This will let you know when you should be awake and or sleep.
If you can, on the flight, jump start your sleep patterns by staying awake or sleeping according to your new schedule.
Headphones and the right content can help you sleep or stay wake. Get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to block out the surrounding sounds, or listen to upbeat tunes or watch comedies to keep you awake.
Alternatively, an eye mask (like those offered by airlines) and soothing music can help lull you to sleep.
If it’s daytime when you arrive, stay outside. The natural sunlight will help your serotonin levels adjust to the time change.
Physical activity such as walking will also help adjust your circadian rhythm. Consider a more vigorous activity in the mornings and even a light walk into the evening.
The evening exercise will help tire you out, but be sure to do it two hours before bedtime to give your body enough time to wind down.
Eat according to your new meal schedule but be sure to choose foods wisely. A protein packed breakfast will sustain your energy throughout the day and heavier carb-rich foods will make you sleepy.
Watch your alcohol consumption before your body adjusts. While you may think it may help you sleep, alcohol-induced sleep is not high quality sleep.