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"Unraveling the Mystery of Jet Lag: Is It All in Your Head?"

Is jet lag real? Do you feel horrible after a long flight?  Is it difficult to adjust to the time in your new location?  Are your sleep patterns out of whack for days? Is it jet lag or am I imagining it?

First Things First

I had no idea - is it jet lag or jetlag?  It’s two words, folks.

What is Jet Lag and What Causes It?

Jet lag is caused by a mismatch between a person’s normal daily rhythms and a new time zone. It is a temporary sleep problem that usually occurs when you travel across more than three time zones but can affect anyone who travels across multiple time zones.

Basically, jet lag interferes with your circadian rhythms (aka, your internal clock - your sleep-wake cycle – nothing important!).  The Mayo clinic explains that, “crossing multiple time zones puts your internal clock out of sync with the time in your new locale.”

The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of jet lag, including:

  • Sleep problems such as not being able to fall asleep or waking up early.

  • Daytime fatigue.

  • Not being able to focus or function at your usual level.

  • Stomach problems such as constipation or diarrhea.

  • A general feeling of not being well.

  • Mood changes.

For some of us, the symptoms just sound like having to go to work on Monday, but these symptoms are real, and they get worse the farther you travel. And, apparently, jet lag is worse flying  eastward. Yay.

So, What Actually Affects Jet Lag?

Well, a bunch of things, but sunlight for one.  The Mayo Clinic went into detail, but basically, sunlight impacts melatonin (a hormone) that helps your body’s cells do their jobs.  Another thing - if you’re flying - the dry airplane air can dehydrate you and make your jet lag worse.  After years of being a flight attendant, I can tell you that being dehydrated exacerbates jet lag.  Dehydration also contributes to painful muscle cramps.  Other factors that may influence whether or how severely you jet lag include:  your age, how often you fly, the number of times zones you cross, and flying east.

So, What Can You Do About It? 

Maybe you can’t prevent jet lag entirely, but there are things you can do to mitigate it, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of water. Yeah, I know that starts the whole drink/pee cycle and airplane bathrooms, ick.

  • imiting alcohol/caffeine:  Alcohol and caffeine both dehydrate you, which contributes to jet lag. And drinking airplane coffee?  Gross.  How often do you think the water tanks get cleaned that hold the water to make that coffee?

  • Getting rest before your trip.  Yeah, that’s nearly impossible.

  • Getting rest on your flight.  No, I’m not joking.

  • Adjusting:  I’ve often read that gradually adjusting your schedule to your new time is helpful, but for me, it doesn’t seem to work. 

  • Getting light exposure: Again, the Mayo Clinic explains, “Light exposure is a prime influence on your body's circadian rhythms. After traveling west, expose yourself to light in the evening to help you adjust to a later than usual time zone. After traveling east, expose yourself to morning light to adapt to an earlier time zone.

So, to answer the question at the beginning of theis post - Yes, jet lag is real. And while there's no cure for jet lag, hopefully doing one or two of the above suggestions will lessen its effects and make

adjusting to your new schedule less miserable.

*Hey there! This blog post is all my own work, but I got some help on the title from AI.


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