Jet Lag and Sleep

When crossing time zones while traveling, you are likely to experience jet lag, which can affect your sleep and alertness in a profound way. Millions of travelers struggle with this common sleep disorder every day. While it used to be viewed as merely a problem with your state of mind, today studies prove that the condition is the result of an imbalance of your body’s “biological clock” from crossing through time zones.

Our bodies function on a 24-hour cycle known as circadian rhythm, which affects our sleep/wake times. These rhythms are controlled by the rise and fall of body temperature, as well as plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. Our exposure to sunlight helps us determine when we fall asleep and wake up.

However, when you travel to a new time zone, it takes time for your circadian rhythm to adjust, and it will remain on the old schedule for several days. You will feel extremely fatigued and want to go to sleep during the middle of the afternoon or want to wake up at nighttime. This phenomenon is popularly known as jet lag.

Treatment for Jet Lag

By adjusting some of your behaviors prior to, during and after arriving at your destination, you can minimize some of the effects of jet lag.

  • Choose flights that allow early evening arrival and try to stay awake until 10 p.m. local time. If you cannot stay awake, try to take a short nap in the early afternoon, but no longer than two hours. Set an alarm so you will wake up.
  • Before you go on your trip, adjust your sleep schedule by getting up and going to bed earlier than usual in the days prior to departing for going east. If you’re going west, go to bed later and wake up later.
  • Change your watch to the destination time zone upon boarding the plane.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the hours before bedtime as they can act as stimulants and prevent you from getting adequate or quality sleep.
  • When arriving at your destination, avoid a heavy meal, as it will make you sleepier.
  • Bring earplugs and an eye mask to eliminate noise and light when trying to sleep.
  • Go outdoors as much as possible – natural light is effective as a stimulant and regulates the biological clock.

Travel, Stress, and Sleeplessness

Travel-related stress can result in sleepless nights, as well. Two common conditions are the “first night effect” or the “on-call effect.” The ‘first night effect’ results when trying to sleep in a new environment, and the ‘on-call effect’ is caused by a persistent worry that you might be awoken by something such as your phone, outside noise or some form of disruption.

In order to avoid these stressful conditions and sleeplessness that results from it, try to do the following:

  • To feel more at home in your new environment, take objects from home with you, such as a framed photo, blankets, pillows, or a coffee mug.
  • See if your hotel provides voice mail services to guests.
  • Check your room for potential disruptions to sleep which can be avoided, such as light coming through the drapes or unwanted noises in your room.
  • Request a wakeup call and set an alarm on your phone or clock in case you miss the first alarm or sleep through it.

Travel, Hotels, and Sleep

When booking a hotel, the internet can be a great resource in looking for reviews of the establishment when it comes to service, cleanliness, and noise. However, be aware that sometimes reviews will be written by the staff instead of actual hotel guests.

While it may be more difficult to adhere to the sleep hygiene practices of avoiding activities such as watching TV, working, or eating in bed, sleep-starved travelers can still get a good night’s sleep.

Learn more about Travel, Hotels, and Sleep

For more information about jet lag and treatment options that may benefit your sleep disorder, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.