Taking the long haul flights across time zones and continents may sound all fun and exciting, but they can ruin one’s sleep pattern, cause sleep disruption and affect daytime alertness and mental functions. Don’t lag, here’s how.
Sleep is based on a circadian rhythm that relies on the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Melatonin is sensitive to the day’s sunshine and night’s darkness, and as such, your sleep cycle will be affected when you cross time zones.
- Melatonin production is based on your home time, not the destination time, and as such you may not be able to sleep at your destination country’s night time.
You experience jet lag.
You feel tired, and lethargic.
You are wide awake at night when it is time to sleep.
And fighting to keep awake during the day.
Jet lag depends not on duration of travel, but the direction of travel.
You may fly long hours up north or down south but if you are still within the same time zone, your sleep will not be affected. However, if you fly across east to west, or vice-versa, you will be affected significantly. It is easier to fly towards the west, as you gain a day and have more time to recover. It is tougher to fly east, where you lose a day.
Short travel trip in terms of flight duration or travel duration is seldom an issue. Most of us will be able to adapt fairly well and quickly. The sleep circadian rhythm might be temporarily disrupted but will usually recover fairly quickly.
Long term irregular sleeping patterns are not favourable for any individual, as the sleep cycles get disrupted and altered. Usually, the pineal gland in the brain produces melatonin at around 11pm, peaks at around midnight or 1am, and starts to dwindle by 4-5am.
Hence, prolonged repeated sleep disruption (especially frequent changes in sleep/wake cycle due to time difference) will throw the melatonin sleep-wake cycle off and cause sleeplessness, tiredness, sleep deprivation, irritability, mood changes, poor concentration, low productivity and low quality of life.
How to avoid jet lag?
Some helpful tips, depending how long you are planning to stay at your travel destination, and how busy you are going to be, on the trip.
- If it is a short trip, it may be better for you to keep to your home time and not try to adjust to your destination time.
- If the trip is long, then you will have to adjust to the destination time. The fastest way to adjust, is to stay awake for as long as possible at your destination, and sleep it off the first night that comes.
- During the day, get out to the open, under the afternoon sun in order to re-tune your sleep/wake cycle.
- Avoid having any light-emitting devices (ipad, iphone, television, computer) 2 hours before bedtime. If you must read a book, do so under yellow light.
- Avoid exercise four hours before bedtime.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee, tea or colas after 2pm.
- Avoid taking too heavy dinners.
- Keep regular sleeping hours daily.
- Keep your room cool, dark and quiet.
And you are ready to #flysleeprepeat.