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Tips on how to avoid jet lag

Jet lag makes you feel like a zombie. It can zap energy levels and cause fatigue, nausea and lack of concentration. The good thing is that these symptoms can be reduced. Try some tried and tested methods used by seasoned travellers to combat jet lag.

Jet lag, that horrible feeling after you've travelled across different time zones, can be debilitating. Experts estimate that the human body requires twenty-four hours to recuperate for each hour of time difference. A traveller on a direct flight from Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport to London Heathrow should take about 9 days to get over the jet lag.

Experts also believe that flying west to east is more taxing on the body, than flying east to west. The human body is better at delaying the internal clock than at speeding it up. You'll be able to handle the jet lag better when you travel from the UK to the US than travelling back to the UK from the US.

A study from the mid-90s indicates that flight attendants accustomed to flying long distances experienced varied degrees of jet lag symptoms. Nine out of 10 flight attendants reported disturbed sleep, low energy levels and lack of motivation and fatigue. Seven out of 10 had problems in the nose, throat and ears. Irrespective of how often you travel between different time zones, jet lag symptoms surface, if not controlled via manipulation.

Typical symptoms of jet lag

Know that you have jet lag if you suffer from any one or more of these symptoms after having travelled to a different time zone –
  • Decline in aerobic fitness
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) distress
  • Insomnia
  • Joint stiffness and swelling
  • Lack in concentration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Nausea
  • Reduced anaerobic fitness

What causes jet lag?

Jet lag occurs when our internal clock, also known as our body clock or the circadian rhythm, does not sync with the time of the day in the new place. There is a disruption to the body's natural cycle that occurs within a24 hour cycle. Our circadian rhythm follows a set pattern, it controls our sleeping and awakening, makes us feel hungry, regulates our bowel movement, raises alertness levels and releases hormones etcetera at specified times of the day. Our circadian rhythm depends on a lot of factors, including –

  • Light – Daybreak has a significant influence on our circadian rhythm; it prompts the beginning of a new cycle. The circadian rhythm can be reset by gazing into a bright light, irrespective of the time of the day
  • Time – Our sleep-wake cycle is determined by when we wake up and the pattern of our daily schedule
  • Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body, at specific times of the day. It causes sleep and regulates our body temperature. The body naturally produces this hormone after sunset and reduces its production before sunrise. This helps maintain the sleep-wake cycle in humans

Jet lag triggers in the part of the brain where all processes revolving around our circadian rhythm are controlled. This part of our brain has a set pattern and is slow to react to significant changes which occur when we travel different time zones.

Is there a way to not get jet-lagged

The best way to avoid jet lag is to get our circadian rhythm in sync with the new time zone at the earliest. This might seem impossible, but can be achieved with a little planning. Follow these scientifically proven tips –

Modify your food intake

Research shows that intermittent fasting lessens symptoms of jet lag. Intermittent fasting is used to alter the circadian rhythm because as mentioned earlier it controls hunger in us. There are no drastic measures involved here; just a simple change in the way you eat on the day of travel can ensure positive results.
  • Eat breakfast and lunch as you normally would
  • Do not eat or drink anything other than water, prior to and during the flight
  • Water is essential to keep you hydrated, do not skip it
  • By not consuming calories post lunch you end up fasting until you reach your destination – roughly 14-24hours
  • Once you reach your destination eat as soon as you can; and time the meal with a mealtime of the place you are in
  • Let your next meal coincide with the mealtime in the place you are in, and take it from there – eat breakfast, lunch and dinner like a local

The above trick will reset your body clock and that will in turn help with jet lag.

Beat jet lag through exercise

There is a university study that indicates that exercise affects the body and can hence ease jet lag. A research conducted at the University of Toronto placed hamsters in an eight hour, induced time change. In the new time zone, half the hamsters were allowed to sleep, while the rest were made to exercise. The latter were able to adjust to the new time-zone in a day and a half, while the rest took eight and a half days.

The members attached with this study concluded that exercising at the same hour, as you would at home when in a different time zone has its benefits. Doing so does not alter the circadian rhythm in the brain, but synchs the muscles and peripheral tissues with the new setting. If you are used to an early morning run or a late night swim, follow the same exercise routine, and gradually increase the intensity of your workout.

Being outdoors also helps, as light (as explained earlier) regulates the circadian rhythm in the brain. When daylight and physical activity are combined it sends the brain a signal that it's time to be up.

Regulate sleep and wake up pattern

You must also follow a regular sleep and wake up pattern. Go to bed at the same time you would at home. Replicate the same atmosphere, read a book, watch some television or check your mail, do whatever you do every day, at the same time and you will be able to cheat your brain into changing its pattern. Sleep and waking up are controlled by the body clock. You following this tip push the brain to adjust to the new time zone.

Supplements can help

Supplements under the supervision of a medical practitioner can have wonderful effects, not just in managing medical conditions, but with managing jet lag as well. The above tips should work like magic, but if you find them having little effect on you, or if you cannot follow the suggestions then you can always fall back on artificial stimulants, such as supplements. There are sufficient studies to indicate that supplements can reduce signs of jet lag. This is in no way a recommendation for self-medication and is purely for information. Do consult a doctor about using supplements.


Melatonin is among the many hormones produced in the body. The hormone regulates the sleep and wake-up pattern. The brain releases the hormone at night when the lights are turned off. When travelling through different time zones there is an obvious change in the daylight and night pattern. The daylight and darkness pattern get altered and this disrupts the melatonin cycle, which is in tune with the place we live in and this results in jet lag.

The brain takes some time to adjust to the new routine. However, by artificially supplementing the hormone we can change our sleep and wake up pattern and prevent jet lag. A medical check-up is recommended before trying this out. Anyone with a medical condition or on medication must consult their doctor before they take the supplement. When you take the supplement is also important because it begins acting on the body within an hour of intake.

Herbal remedies

Try an herbal remedy that comes in a capsule. Pycnogenol is a supplement obtained from the bark of French Pine trees and known to eliminate symptoms of jet lag. There has been a lot of research done on this and the extract has been found to be effective and safe. However, practise caution, have a word with your doctor, since herbal stuff can also have side-effects and/or cause an adverse reaction if you are on specific medication or have a medical condition.

The symptoms of jet lag cannot be avoided completely, but timely precautions can help reduce its effects considerably. What you do before, during and after you arrive can make the recovery faster and smoother.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 609 articles authored by Juana

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Author: Umesh24 Feb 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 1

Very detailed and informative article. The author has covered all aspects of jet lag and suggested the various remedial measures.
The article will be very helpful for persons undertaking long air journeys across the globe.

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