Image on Essentia's Blog Showing How to Combat Sleep Debt and Jet Lag
19th May 2022
Lifestyle

It’s Time to Travel! How to Combat Jet Lag and Sleep Debt

When was the last time you traveled from coast to coast or crossed 4 different time zones? How long did it take before you got back into your good sleep routine? What are the symptoms of flight fatigue? Did you realize you were logging a sleep debt?

View outside of an airplane windowAs travel restrictions lessen in the US, many people are looking to get away and spend quality family time at destinations near and abroad.  Most trips require long air travel distances and managing challenges associated with commercial flying. Jet lag or sometimes referred to as flight fatigue is a result of quick air travel through multiple time zones.  From New York to California, Boston to London, California to Japan, every day millions of travelers struggle with disrupting their internal biological clock and ultimately leading to emotional and physical symptoms. Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone and does not require a medical evaluation.

The more time zones you cross during your flight the more likely you will experience jet lag and it has been found that flying east may be more difficult since you are losing time compared to flying west when you gain time. Keep in mind before you make the cross-continental trip, that preexisting sleep deprivation, stress, and poor sleep habits prior to travel can intensify jet lag symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Jet Lag & Sleep Dept

  • Insomnia or disturbed and interruptive sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headache, Fatigue, Irritability
  • Anxiety or lack of concentration
  • Sweating or nausea
  • Stomach problems like diarrhea or constipation
  • Mood changes and a general feeling of not being well.

The effect of jet lag is having to adjust to your “new” local nighttime associated with sleep and having difficulty staying awake in the “new” local daytime. Losing hours of required sleep is called “Sleep Debt”. We require 7-8 hours of sleep per day and anything short of that is your sleep debt value. It usually takes a few days for your body to adjust your sleep-wake cycle, along with most other body functions such as hunger and bowel habits, but for some individuals, it may take longer. 

Your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythms) is mainly influenced by sunlight exposure so when we cross multiple time zones, we perceive dawn or dusk many hours earlier or later than usual, which causes the hypothalamus to trigger signals to the body that it’s time to rest.  So what can you do to eliminate or lessen the severity of jet lag? A lot goes into planning your flight so make sure you arrive early to avoid stress. What can you do during the flight to reduce symptoms and strategies for the “new” time zone for better sleep success? We’re sharing our tips below for each leg of your journey!

Passengers on board a commercial flight. Get tips to avoid jet lag and sleep debt

Tips to Help Reduce Sleep Debt and Combat Jet Lag

Preflight: 

  • Pay down sleep debt – get the recommended 7-8 hours daily sleep, starting out sleep-deprived increases the severity of jet lag.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine and stay hydrated – air cabin pressure, high altitudes, and dry air make you dehydrated and more prone to symptoms.
  • Don’t try to adapt to “new” sleep time – there is a limited benefit and it’s difficult to achieve positive results.
  • Stay Fit – exercise, eat right and get plenty of rest. Your stamina and conditioning will help you to handle jet lag symptoms better after you land.

Inflight:

  • Avoid caffeine prior to taking off and no coffee till arrival.
  • Don’t eat the inflight meal.  Eat prior to boarding or immediately after takeoff.  In-service meals will interrupt sleep. A 5-hour flight is a chance to pay down sleep debt.
  • No alcohol – it can make you feel drowsy or calm but usually impairs sleep.
  • All-natural, non-toxic travel pillow to provide neck support and comfort 
  • Noise-canceling earplugs, a sleep mask, and a window seat so other passengers’ movements won’t interrupt your sleep.
  • Change Your Watch – be sure to adjust your watch to reflect the time zone you’re traveling to. Most new phones today will automatically correct to the new time zone once you land. 

“New” Time Zone Tips: 

  • Regulate bright light exposure – exposure to light in the evening helps you adjust to traveling westward, while exposure to morning light can help you adapt to traveling eastward. 
  • Get outside – daylight is a natural and powerful tool for regulating or resetting your biological clock. 
  • Try not to sleep until “new” local nighttime and try to eat meals during “new” local mealtimes.
  • Stick to your normal sleep routine – bring your favorite organic pillow, request a quiet room, check the thermostat and keep it cool.
  • Take smart naps to pay down sleep debt. Usually, 20-30 minutes is enough to clear the brain and give you the energy to go.
  • Find your perfect sleep environment – temperature, noise, indoor pollutants, and environmental factors contribute to sleep quality. If you are staying at a hotel, check to see if they offer organic mattresses, non-toxic, natural bedding, and other clean air features to give you the best night’s sleep.  The Stay Well program has many hotel options, and the room concept is thoughtfully designed to help you combat jet lag and get the most out of your vacation!


If you have additional tips to combat jet lag and reduce your sleep debt please share them with us in a comment below!

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