Even the most experienced world travelers can experience jet lag. The medical term for jet lab is desynchronosis – literally, being out of sync. That’s a perfect way to describe the fatigue, insomnia, irritability that are the most common symptoms that occur when you fly across multiple time zones.
The cause of jet lag is simple. Our bodies can’t adjust quickly enough to keep up with the perceived changes that happen when you fly across time zones – the 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometer) wide “horizontal strips” that divide the sun’s path across the earth into 24 different zones, each out of synch with the next one by one hour.
Blame it on the tiny part of the brain called the hypothalamus that acts like an alarm clock to activate various body functions such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. It also regulates body temperature, blood pressure, and the level of hormones and glucose in the bloodstream. The hypothalamus is triggered by perceptions of light and darkness transmitted from the eye to a timekeeping center within the hypothalamus. That’s why when you experience dawn or dusk many hours earlier or later than usual after arriving on a long flight, you experience the symptoms that we call jet lag.
So what do you do about it? British Airways commissioned a study by several leading universities, and published a guide for long-haul travelers that includes these tips:
Keep hydrated: If you’re feeling stressed, you might reach for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine or chocolate to calm you down. However, these substances all contain stimulants. Try instead to stock up on healthy snacks like fresh or dried fruit or nuts, and keep topping up your water.
Remain calm: When you face something unexpected when travelling abroad it is very easy to react negatively by arguing endlessly or by fuming silently. It is much better to take a deep breath, stay calm, and accept that there are some things in life that you just can’t change.
Breathe: Studies show that when travelers get stressed, their breathing becomes more shallow and fast. Try breathing in to your belly for the count of 4, holding it for 16 and breathing out to the count of 8. This exercise balances the serotonin, the chemical that regulates happiness, in your brain.
Modify eating and exercise routines: Eating and exercise both help reset the body clock to the new time zone. It’s best to eat little prior to your journey – this helps makes the journey more enjoyable. When you get to the destination start eating according to the new time zone, this helps with adjustment. Exercising between late afternoon and early evening appears to be the optimal time to reset the clock more rapidly in a new time zone.
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