Anyone who has traveled across time zones has felt it: the grogginess, the foggy brain, the craving for caffeine and the grumbling when the sun comes up a few hours too early.
We all know that jet lag can make you tired and can spoil the first day or two of an otherwise fantastic vacation. But why does it happen, what are some of the impacts it can have on your health and is there any way to prevent it? Let’s find out!
Why Does Jet Lag Happen?
Travel across time zones – especially if you are making a trip that crosses several time zones – is difficult for our bodies to process. Why? Well, our bodies are on a 24-hour cycle known as our “circadian rhythm.” This pattern determines when we sleep when we wake up, when we’re drowsy and when we’re alert.
Our circadian rhythms are impacted by sunlight – when the sun rises and sets. The presence or absence of sunlight prompts your body temperature to rise and fall, your body to produce different levels of hormones and so on.
When we move across time zones, our bodies struggle to readjust to a new sunrise and sunset time, not to mention the loss of sleep we often experience during travel. This can cause your body to think it’s time for bed when it’s still the afternoon, or make you wake up in the wee hours of the morning.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Drowsiness and nodding off during dinner can be annoying, but did you know that jet lag can have even more impact on you? It’s true! Here are a few surprising ways that jet lag can compromise your body.
Now, please note: these more severe symptoms of jet lag tend to occur in people who are chronically jet-lagged – those who travel a lot for work or have made several global trips within a short timeframe. For the average traveler taking a road trip or an annual jaunt across the ocean, these symptoms might appear briefly, but won’t linger.
According to this study, chronic jet lag in international flight attendants caused a rise in their brain’s cortisol levels. Those who had been on the job longer had higher cortisol levels and scored lower on memory tests – causing researchers to draw a connection between chronic jet lag, cortisol levels, and a loss of cognitive function.
We’ve all felt irritable when we’re tired, but a misaligned and out-of-sync circadian rhythm can make you grouchy. Not only are you tired, but everyone else around you expects you to be on their local schedule. It’s a perfect storm!
Potential Increase in Cancer Risk
Studies looking at flight attendants and crews have found that these groups have higher rates of prostate cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer. Of course, there are other factors in play – like the fact that these people are exposed to more cosmic radiation than the average adult – but studies done on mice in similar situations showed the same result.
Struggling to focus – both mentally and visually – can be a sign of jet lag. Alone, this can be pesky and annoying. But pair this difficulty focusing with irritability and memory lapses, it a cause for concern, especially if you plan to get behind the wheel of a car.
Preventing Jet Lag
Whew. So, now you know what kind of impact jet lag can have on your body. Is there any way to prevent it, or at least keep it from getting too severe? Here are a few tips.
Start Out Well-Rested
Jet lag is far more manageable if you start out well-rested. If you know you’ll be crossing two or more time zones on your trip, be sure to get some extra sleep before you head out. Having a healthy, established sleep cycle will help your body recover faster.
Gradually Adjust for Long Trips
If possible, begin shifting your schedule before you take the trip (especially if you’re going somewhere that is significantly ahead of or behind your normal time zone.) Start shifting your bedtime back or forward by an hour each day for a few days before your trip. Then, when you wake up, get some sunlight. This should help start shifting your circadian rhythm.
Hydration is the magic serum to keep your body going, even when you’re tired. Drink lots of water and fluids with electrolytes when traveling. Still feeling gross and tired? Try out our concierge service, using one of the formulas specially crafted for jet-lagged travelers.
Sunshine is what dictates your whole rhythm, so make sure that you get plenty of it. Getting sun first thing in the morning will help signal to your body that it’s time to shift into a daytime mode and raise your temperature.
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