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Top tips for combatting jet lag

Jet Lag according to the Encyclopaedia of Sleep is defined as, “A transient psychophysiological syndrome related to the desynchronisation of body circadian rhythms due to a  rapid long-distance transmeridian travel.” In short, it is when your body gets confused at what time it is, due to a long trip during which you change different time zones.  As a result, your internal clock hasn’t adapted to your current timezone yet. For this reason, you may find yourself falling asleep at weird hours, or staying up much later than you normally would.

Jet lag is one of the main downsides of long-distance travel. It can involve many symptoms, which, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include:


  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue and general malaise
  • Emotional difficulties and mood swings
  • Concentration difficulties

How long does jet lag last?

Jet lag usually only lasts a few days, however, in very long flights where the time difference is over eight hours, it can last around a week or more. 

There are ways of managing your jet lag and helping it on its way, should you find yourself falling asleep at 3pm.

How to manage your jet lag

Jet lag symptoms can be unpleasant, but there are ways of managing them that can make your trip more bearable. Here are some tips on how to manage your jet lag. 

According to the NHS, there are several things you can do to reduce the effects of jet lag. These include:

  • drinking plenty of water during your flight
  • trying to sleep on the plane if it's nighttime at the destination you're flying to
  • keeping active around the cabin by stretching and walking around.

Once you arrive at your destination, the NHS recommends you go outside (if it’s daytime), as natural light will help your body clock to adjust. You should also change your sleep schedule immediately, and set an alarm to avoid oversleeping. 

Sleep aids

Some of the best sleep aids for jet lag include staying hydrated and keeping active. There are ways to induce sleep to realign your body clock, which include taking melatonin supplements, which can provide a temporary jet lag cure until your body has re-adjusted, however, medication is usually only needed for severe cases of jet lag. 

Factors that make jet lag worse

Dehydration

Being dehydrated isn’t good for your overall health, but being dehydrated while jet lagged can make symptoms worse. Make sure you drink plenty of water before you arrive at your destination and during your stay, to help reduce symptoms of jet lag.

Alcohol and caffeine

Although coffee is usually seen as a substance that is unlikely to have a beneficial effect on sleep, when it comes to jet lag, this is not entirely true. The intelligent and planned use of caffeine could, indeed, help us resolve jetlag more quickly and effectively.

This idea was suggested by Dr John O'Neill of the University of Colorado, who, in September 2015, conducted a study on the effects of caffeine. The researcher explains during an interview with The Telegraph, "Not only do these results reinforce the common advice to avoid caffeine in the evening, but they also raise the intriguing possibility that caffeine may be useful for resetting the circadian clock to treat jet lag induced by international time zone travel." The researchers' valid hypothesis is that the delay that caffeine can provide to our internal clock may help those flying west stay in synchrony with the day-night cycle. However, timing, in this case, is crucial. The researchers added: “Our findings suggest that taking caffeine at the wrong time could make your jet lag on an eastward trip worse!” For these reasons, our advice is to drink coffee if you are travelling west and avoid it when travelling east or if you are not used to the energising effect of caffeine.

Social jet lag

A term has been floating around recently called ‘social jet lag,’ which, in summary, is when you begin to feel symptoms of jet lag due to a late sleep-wake cycle, or staying out late at night and waking up early in the morning. The National Library of Medicine defines it as, “differences in sleep timing between work and free days leading to a considerable sleep debt on work days, for which they compensate on free days. The discrepancy between work and free days, between social and biological time, can be described as 'social jet lag.’” 

Social jet lag is especially prominent now that summer has rolled around, meaning that more people are socialising together and staying up late, causing a delay in their body clocks. 

This can cause sleep deprivation which makes people more susceptible to chronic illnesses and disease if not managed. Some social jet lag symptoms can include:

  • Late sleeping and early waking
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Poor performance
  • Concentration problems
  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Insomnia

How to manage social jet lag

Prioritise sleep

You can still enjoy yourself while you prioritise your sleep. You can manage your ‘social jet lag’ by resetting your body clock and creating a schedule that you regularly adhere to, to re-tune your sleep-wake cycle. 

A study conducted by Science Direct that looked into the effects on people who are labelled as ‘night owls’ says that people who stay awake till late and have a later wake up time are more likely to experience negative health effects, for example mood swings, health issues and even increased mortality rates. 

By sticking to a strict schedule, for example, setting a specific time to go to bed and wake up everyday, can allow you to fight the effects of social jet lag, while also allowing you to enjoy yourself. Making sure you get enough sleep is also important. 

Take a nap

For late shift workers, night owls, and those who enjoy late night socialising, there is a way of making up for lost sleep. According to Rise Science, “naps can be used to preempt sleep debt (sleep scientists call it prophylactic napping). For example, night-shift employees may nap before work to compensate for sleep loss later on. With lower sleep debt, they are much more capable of bouncing back from social jet lag on their free days.”

So, napping in cases when losing sleep isn’t always in your control, and sticking to a strict sleep-wake schedule can help to combat the effects of social jet lag, meaning the next time a friend asks you to attend a party or go out for cocktails, you can still enjoy socialising without adversely affecting your sleep.

Make sure you check out more about sleep wellness and sleep health guides throughout the Sunrise by Emma website. You can also browse our collection of science-back sleep accessories over on the main Emma website.

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