Tackling Jet Lag: East & West

I think that everyone at some point heard in a movie of that celebrity only traveling to West and potentially lengthening their journey just to avoid traveling east. I have always found this funny, but never really understood the reasoning behind this. Until I found myself unable to sleep at 3am for the 6th night in a row. This was my first time facing east jet lag (-7h vs CET and -8h vs WET) and it’s been hell.

Jet lag is defined as a disorder affecting one’s sleep when they travel quickly across multiple timezones. It is related to one’s circadian rhythm, basically our body’s signals to stay awake and sleep. When we go to a different time zone, our body is still receiving the inputs based on our original timezone and hence this may disrupt our sleep/awake cycle for a few days.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2020) this are the most common symptoms: 

  • Disturbed sleep — such as insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level
  • Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
  • A general feeling of not being well
  • Mood changes

Symptoms of jet lag can vary. You may experience only one symptom or more. 

I was very curious to figure out why traveling east has such a detrimental effect on the body, while I can go west and get used to a +9h difference within 24/48h at max, so I did a bit of research. I started with the most basic questionnaire sent to friends. Apparently, most of the people do suffer more of jet lag when traveling east compared to west, however, there are few exception of people also suffering a lot traveling west. 

While I do not know the reasons behind this divide, the rule of thumb is that the human body suffers more when traveling east. Indeed, our circadian rhythm may be extended – thus, going west – more easily than shorten. In other words, extending our day, “gaining time,” may be more easy on the body, especially if we are able to take a nap on the plane, or reach our destination in the mid afternoon so that we don’t have to extend it by too many hours, than shortening it. Hence, when we go east we effectively “lose” some hours and our body is not as able to effortlessly shorten our circadian rhythm.

Several factors may, however, help you deal with jet lag.

Sunlight.

Sunlight is key in regulating melatonin, the hormone that controls our circadian rhythm. Therefore, if you are able to expose yourself to sunlight during the new time zone day, and have no source of light whatsoever in the time zone sleeping hours, you should help your body easing into the new rhythm.

Melatonin.

I have never used melatonin myself, however, after finding myself still jet lagged after 6 days, I will add it to my travel supplements. Most websites recommend 0.5 mg but talk with your GP before taking any. As mentioned above, this is the key hormone in our circadian rhythm and may be especially helpful if you are unable to expose yourself to sunlight (i.e. serving stay home notice in Singapore like myself) and/or if you suffer significantly from jet lag.

Stay hydrated.

Our body gets heavily dehydrated on planes, hence, it is recommended to drink a lot of water – while skipping coffee, tea, alcohol, that further contributes to dehydration – during the flight. Most sources recommend at least 1L of water on continental flights and more than 2L on intercontinental flights. My personal rule of thumb – as this is an issue I am very careful with – is at least 1L per three hours of flight, even though most of the time I can stretch it to 1.5L. Apparently, some celebrities even make it as much as 1L per hour of flight. However, please remember that this are just guidelines and the true amount of water you may need or feel comfortable drinking is very subjective and dependent on previous conditions (i.e. lifestyle, previous water consumption, weight, age etc).

Stay Active.

This suggestion is as important for overall wellbeing as it is for jet lag. Studies suggest that any kind of activity – starting from a more vigorous training earlier in the day, to a light walk or a relaxing yoga session in the evening – can help your body either feel energized or relaxed and hence contribute to a faster adaptation to the new timezone. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to explore your surroundings.

Miscellaneous.

There are several other recommendations one may implement. For instance, some recommend focusing on healthy foods upon arrival, avoiding caffeine or tea. For those who can afford it, one great suggestion is to break up the travel, for instance, if traveling to New Zealand from Europe, spending a few nights in Dubai or in Singapore before crossing even more time zones. Other suggestions include preparing to the new routine before the travel by going to bed a few hours earlier (east) or later (west) in the days that precede the trip, and doing the same thing a few days before returning. Sleeping or not sleeping on the plane may also help according to the final destination. 

What about your suggestions? What are your top tips for fighting jet lag?

Have A Safe Journey!

Camilla

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