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Tackling Jet Lag

Tips, Tricks and Science

Written by Samantha Lund

Recently, QATAR Airways announced their newest perk: jet lag–resistant aircrafts. The A350-1000 aircraft has new comfortable features for first and business class, but the bigger news is what’s hitting economy passengers: revolutionary jet lag–fighting flight features.

The A350-1000 offers enhanced levels of passenger comfort, thanks to the lowest twin-engine noise level on any aircraft, advanced air-conditioning technology and full LED mood lighting to adjust circadian rhythm.

Recently, NASA also announced new sleep-mask technology, giving passengers the sense of a full-night’s sleep during shorter nap times.

As scientists try to break down the barriers between humans and sleep deprivation, understanding the body’s needs and how to battle jet lag will lead to more productive business trips—or even more time spent sight-seeing on your next international excursion.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a series of symptoms that occur when your internal body rhythm is disrupted. We all have built-in timers that tell us when to sleep, eat, etc. A small group of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, let us know when to sleep and wake up; they also aid in regulating hunger, mood and blood pressure.

One of the main signals these cells use is light, which helps to rest the clock every day as the sun rises and sets.

According to researchers at NASA, it takes about a day for your body to shift one time zone. Imagine traveling halfway across the world—that’s several days of resetting to catch up on.

Jet lag essentially comes from a process of “breaks” in the body. Since we’re regulated by the sun, human bodies have developed an SIK1 gene that “breaks” certain processes even when it’s light out. For example, when we see artificial light or moonlight. Without these genes, we’d have erratic body clocks. Instead, the SIK1 gene aims to preserve the stability of our internal clock and keep us on our usual schedule, negating sun and slowing down our process for adjusting to new time zones.

Jet Lag and the Body

If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably don’t appreciate jet lag because it lessens productivity. But it can also lead to negative health effects.

Common side effects are fatigue, confusion and lack of awareness. Jet lag can disrupt your genes, throwing them off their normal rhythms, and reduce neuron growth in the brain, decreasing memory and learning ability.

How to Beat It

One:

Adjust your schedule before you leave. First, it’s easiest to adjust when going from east to west because your body clock can be delayed by going to bed later rather than forcing yourself to sleep earlier. Experts suggest, no matter which direction you’re traveling, that several days before your trip you go to bed and wake up an hour earlier each day. Take melatonin in the afternoon if you need assistance falling asleep. In the morning, find a bright light of any kind to sit under for a bit while your body is waking up.

Two:

Control your light exposure. A study by NASA suggests that consciously manipulating your exposure to light over time will help with jet lag, but not to do it all at once. To help your body clock reset in a new time zone, it’s important to seek out and avoid light at the right times of day. If you’re traveling east, you’ll want to advance your body clock, so seeking morning light and avoiding late afternoon light will help. If you’re traveling west, do the exact opposite.

Three:

Take melatonin. Talk to a doctor first if introducing a pill into your routine makes you uneasy. However, one study found that a dose of five milligrams of melatonin in the early evening helped participants adjust to new time zones faster.

Four:

Stay on home time. If your trip is short, and you aren’t traveling over more than three time zones, you’re better off not adjusting. If your trip is three days or less, it’s barely enough time to adjust and it might not even be worth the effort.

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