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Today's Featured Story: Don't Let Jet Lag Ruin Your Vacation

June 4, 2011

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, John Bateman

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It can turn your holiday in Europe into a sleepwalking blur and make you feel like a zombie in Zimbabwe - jet lag. Officially called circadian desynchronosis (I`ll stick with jet lag), it can range from a nuisance to an outright vacation spoiler. Fortunately there are a few things you can do before and after you get to your destination to help ease its effects on your body.

Basically jet lag is a disruption of your body`s circadian rhythms usually due to air travel across many time zones. Your circadian rhythms are like an internal clock that drives daily functions such as sleep-wake patterns, body temperature, and hormones. When this cycle is disrupted by things that throw your "body clock" off, jet lag can be the result. Symptoms of jet lag can be extreme fatigue, insomnia, disorientation, digestive problems, irritability, and depression.

So what is it about traveling that can cause these symptoms? The biggest cause is traveling to locations that are several time zones ahead or behind your home. For example, flying to Europe can take about 6 hours from the East Coast and most countries on the continent are five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. This can throw off our body clock when you arrive at your destination the following morning when it`s still the middle of the night at home.

Hectic travel schedules and just missing your bed increase sleep deficiency, adding to the lag. Even more troublesome can be traveling to locations in northern latitudes during the summer months when the sun can set at 11p.m. or midnight local time. The extra light can throw off your circadian rhythms and make sleeping even more difficult, especially in a hotel room with inadequate shades.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help ease the symptoms of jet lag before, and during, your vacation.

  • First, try to gradually adjust your sleep and wake times a couple weeks before your vacation to more closely match your destination`s time zone.

  • Stay hydrated on the plane, and while on vacation, to ease fatigue headaches and digestive problems.
  • Try "light therapy,", which can be done by getting outside and exposing your body to a good amount of daily sunshine to help ease your body clock into the local time zone.
  • Pack along a sleep mask and ear plugs to help block out late-evening sunshine and unwanted noise when trying to get your rest.
  • Try melatonin supplements before sleeping. Melatonin can help regulate your circadian rhythms into a more regular sleep-wake cycle.
  • Lastly ...a few don`ts! Don`t over-indulge on caffeine or alcohol, both of which can make jet lag worse by disrupting your sleep patterns, and avoid midday naps while on vacation, which can make it harder for your body to adjust to the new time zone.
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    Story image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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