Jet Lag? Learn a Better Coping method!

By Kyle Lin

“I’m gonna fly to _____ (a place in the far east or west) tomorrow. The time is gonna be way different there. What am I gonna do?” This question is not uncommon to all of us. We all travel to somewhere else at certain points in our lives. According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), nearly 93% of all travelers will experience jet lag at some point.

As a student travelling all the way from Hong Kong to study in UC Berkeley, adjusting to a different time zone is a must, so I’ve been thinking about jet lag these years and wonder how it can be overcome. Occasionally jet lag knocks me out for a couple of days, whereas other times I barely feel it. Hoping that by understanding more about why people get jet-lagged and how it affects us, I might find some strategies for adjusting to new time zones more quickly.

Essentially, jet lag is a physiological condition caused by disturbance to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, or internal clock. This condition is mainly caused by air travel across one or more time zones. It can also be caused by shift work or other factors as well. Jet lag affect people of all age groups and both sexes, but women are particularly at a higher risk than men though, as estrogen is subject to jet lag like conditions.

So how does jet lag affect us? Well, if you’re asking that question, you don’t know how bad it is. Common symptoms of jet lag involve fatigue, disorientation and lack of awareness. Further symptoms may include loss of appetite, insomnia, mild depression, headaches and nausea. It’s also been shown to reduce neuron growth in the brain, decrease learning ability and memory capacity and induce stress

Speaking of a way to cope with jet lag, there are several ways to help our body do this and a combination of all is the best, i.e. additive. The best method of combating jet lag is to slowly adjust our schedule to the time zone of the destination prior to arriving at there. A research has been done in John Moores University, Liverpool, UK by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences in 2009 on “How travelling athletes deal with jet lag”. Sport is a global event and professional athletes travel across national boundaries for training and competition. The symptom of jetlag might affect the performance of athletes and therefore it is a must for athletes to adapt to the new surrounding as soon as possible. A note from an athlete traveling from Brazil to the U.S. is quoted as follows:

“Before leaving: A minor adjustment in getting to bed will help. Retiring 1-2 hours later than normal and sleeping in the next morning prepares the body for the adjustment to come…On the plane: Try to get to sleep soon after the first meal on board, as it should be dark outside at this time. Use eye shades and ear plugs to avoid being disturbed. Once on the plane you can change your watch to Brazil time…After arrival: It is critical to stay awake and be exposed to daylight on the first day in Brazil. Think in terms of clock time in Brazil only…Fit into the local pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner as soon as possible. Avoid afternoon naps while you are adapting to time in Brazil. Naps slow up the adjustment process…”

Taking melatonin, a chemical our brain releases to make us sleepy, may also help. Research reveals that when people travel east, melatonin should be taken at night to advance the body block, especially when travelling across 8 time zones or more, whereas a phase delay would ensue when melatonin is taken in the morning in the hours after the trough in core body temperature during westward travel. However, the use of melatonin is counterproductive if taken at an inappropriate time of day according to body clock time. It is therefore suggested that we should always consult a doctor before consuming it.

To conclude, travelers should know what jet lag is and how to deal with it properly. Have a safe and nice trip!

APA reference of peer-reviewed journals:

Reilly, T. (2009). How can travelling athletes deal with jet-lag? Kinesiology, 41(2), 128-135.

Paul, M., Gray, G., Lieberman, H., Love, R., Miller, J., Trouborst, M., & Arendt, J. (2010).

Phase advance with separate and combined melatonin and light treatment. Psychopharmacology, 515-523.

Other references: