Europe, Australia, Africa, and India are amazing places to visit. But the travel time getting there can take its toll on the human body. The more miles you log, the more likely you are to battle the physical effects of jet lag. So we asked a U-M expert for some tips on how to get the most out of your itinerary from day one.
“Jet Lag encompasses symptoms of insomnia, excessive sleepiness, and other somatic impairments (like gastrointestinal symptoms), when traveling two or more time zones,” explains Dr. Cathy Goldstein, assistant professor of neurology at the U-M Sleep Disorders Center. “The symptoms occur because our body’s internal clock cannot adjust as quickly as we can traverse time zones with air travel.”
According to Goldstein, an individual’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is set to its time of origin—in other words, your departure city. Goldstein explains that it takes, on average, one day per time zone crossed, for the body to adjust, but it can be accelerated with healthy behaviors. (Fun fact—there are 24 time zones in the world.)
Here are some tips the University Health Services Travel Health Education Program provides on their website to help reduce the symptoms of jet lag:
- Stay hydrated –Drink plenty of fluids before and after your flight to prevent dehydration, avoiding beverages containing caffeine or alcohol.
- Eat right—Eat a high-protein meal in the morning to increase alertness and a high-carbohydrate meal at night to induce drowsiness.
- Exercise—Stretch in your seat and move about the cabin whenever possible.
- Get outside—Once you arrive at your destination, spend as much time as possible outside.
- Regulate sleep—Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Do not nap when you get to your destination, because napping will keep you anchored in your old time zone.
While these steps are holistic in nature, there is a more strategic approach. A team of U-M graduate students launched Entrain, an app that can help adjust circadian rhythms. Basically, the app uses a mathematical algorithm that calculates and develops a lighting exposure strategy to help steer your body toward a new time zone. It can, in some instances, cut recovery time in half.
Goldstein explains how sunlight is key to realigning a body’s circadian rhythm, as is the direction in which you travel. “Traveling eastward, the internal clock has to move earlier – or phase advance – to align with the new time,” she said. “Depending on how many time zones traveled, this can be achieved with avoidance of early morning light and increased exposure to late morning/early afternoon light.”
Westward travel is easier for the body to adjust. “Traveling westward, the internal clock needs to move later – or phase delay – to align with the new time zone, which are bodies are more equipped to do. Getting bright light in the evening can be helpful for westward travel.”
The app is available to download in the AppStore and Google Play and requires some input from the user but should be worth the effort.