With spring upon us hopefully many of you are jetting off to sunny climes, one of the questions I am often asked is “how do you deal with jet lag and hopping though multiple time zones?” It has to be said jet lag is nobodies friend, not even seasoned aircrews, being tired is part and parcel of working in aviation. The simple truth is you just get used to it and learn to manage it. Some days I used to feel fine and then there were other days where I felt like I had been hit by a bus, and quite a large one at that. West coast USA and Australia were destinations I always found to be a killer for jet lag.
What Is Jetlag?
“Being Hit by a bus” is not actually scientific terminology surprisingly. Our bodies work on 24 hour cycles known as circadian rhythms. All humans, plants and animals have their own inbuilt circadian clock, which regulates our cycles of sleeping and waking up. The body’s circadian rhythms adjust to certain factors such as environment, temperature or most importantly for us daylight and darkness. The pineal gland in the brain produces a hormone called melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. Melatonin levels tend to spike late evening and then drop in the early hours of the morning to enable us to sleep in the correct part of our cycle.
When we travel to new time zones our own circadian rhythms take time to adjust to the new time zone setting. We remain on our normal timing for days. When its daylight in our destination it could be the middle of the night back at home, so we feel tired or vice versa this essentially is what jet lag is.
How does it affect you?
From personal experience it can leave you disorientated, feeling exhausted and very sluggish. For aircrew the worst thing is having to force yourself to rest for a flight at an unnatural time, but not being able to because of jet lag, double whammy!
How can you deal with jet lag?
Advice varies, from my own personal experience when I arrived at my destination I would take a short nap to take the edge of my tiredness. I would then attempt to keep myself awake in order to have a good nights sleep. (This is not an exact science I slept right through on many an occasion).
If you know you are travelling try to slowly adjust the time you usually go to bed (later or earlier) in the week before your trip. Consider keeping yourself awake on a flight depending upon the arrival or departure (Aircrew don’t have this option unfortunately). Avoid stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, which can prevent sleep at the other end. Also, try to get outside in the sunlight whenever possible. Daylight is known for regulating our body clock. Staying inside will make the jet lag worse – so yes do the unthinkable force yourself to go outside. Finally Step away from the laptop; devices such as iPhones and ipads etc. emit blue light, which can interfere with our sleep.
Everybody is different and what works for one person may not work for the either, however hopefully with a few adjustments the dreaded jetlag might be just kept at bay.