What is Jet Lag and How Do I Prevent It?

When traveling via commercial airliner across long distances, you may experience a temporary medical condition known as jet lag. Also known as desynchronosis, it’s caused by the disturbance of the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) from long-distance travel in a short period of time. Traveling from New York to the U.K., for instance, turns back the time five hours, so your body “thinks” it five hours earlier than before you even left.

The good news is that jet lag is temporary and typically goes away after just a few days. Once your body becomes adjusted to the new time zone, you’ll begin to fall back asleep and wake up at your normal times. With that said, however, jet lag is often problematic for frequent air travelers, pilot and crew members. If you travel in planes several times a month, you may experience severe and/or prolonged jet lag. So, what steps can you take to prevent and minimize the impact of jet lag?

First and foremost, it’s important to note that only west-east or east-west travel causes jet lag. Traveling from north to south or south to north does not cause jet lag, simply because such travel doesn’t cross time zones. Jet lag only occurs when you cross time zones, as the change in day light interferes with your body’s ability to regulate its circadian rhythm.

Perhaps the most effective solution for preventing jet lag is light exposure. It’s well documented that nuances in day light are the root, underlying cause of jet lag. Therefore, exposure to light during the day hours can help ease the symptoms of jet lag. Some people who suffer from severe jet lag even seek light therapy to cope with this condition. Light therapy involves direct exposure to light, essentially mimicking the effects of the sun. When done correctly, it helps to restore your body’s circadian rhythm back to normal working order.

There are a few other things you can do to protect against jet lag, one of which is watching what you eat and drink. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine when flying from east to west or visa-versa, and instead drink plenty of water. Finally, get your body back into its normal routine once you’ve arrived at your destination. If you normally go to bed at 11:00 p.m., lie down and try to sleep at this time. Even if you struggle to fall sleep, this still helps your body adjust to the new time.