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Traveling to New Time Zones

How to Overcome Jet Lag

When daylight savings sprung forward and stole an hour of our precious sleep, we began to wonder how our internal clock resets itself with time changes. Specifically, we were curious about what causes jet lag and how we can combat it. Our bodies have a group of cells (suprachiasmatic nucleus - SCN) that are responsible for regulating our internal clock. When our bodies sense that more light is prominent at a different time of day than we are used to, our internal clock adjusts so that we will rise with the sun at that new time. Jet Lag is a series of symptoms that occur during the transitional period.

Those of us who have traveled across the country or hopped over the pond know that jet lag can put a damper on our travels. The symptoms vary from person to person but can include fatigue, confusion, stress, loss of appetite and lack of awareness. Avoiding jet lag may not always be possible, but we can help our bodies adjust quicker to the new time zone with these tricks:

The first thing to consider is the direction we are traveling. We find traveling east to west is easier because our internal clock gets delayed. Flying from east to west means that we wake up later and that is much easier than having to get up earlier. Who doesn’t want to sleep in longer after an exhausting day of travel?

If we are traveling west to east we regulate our exposure to light. Traveling this direction means rising earlier but depending on the season, the sun may not be up too early. The type of light, natural or artificial, does not matter our SCN will begin the adjustment process with either. A few days before the trip we begin rising earlier and with more light to advance our internal clock. Even though getting up earlier sounds like a daunting task, it gives us a head start and we will adjust much faster and more easily when we arrive at our destination. To help our bodies avoid jet lag we need to strategically manipulate when we are exposed light.

If our trip is spontaneous and we don’t have time to tweak our sleep schedule in the days leading up to the trip we try to make sure our schedule isn’t too full so we can get enough sleep while we are away. That may sound like an easy task however trying to sleep when our internal clock is used to running around at work or powering through a workout at the gym can prove difficult. Some people who travel often may get a prescription from their doctor to help them sleep at any time they choose. We prefer mindful meditation to clear our mind and help us rest, and if necessary a little over the counter melatonin. Sipping on some chamomile tea or listening to white noise may also do the trick. No matter what aid we choose to use its important to start sleeping at our destinations night time whenever that is.

With these tips we’ve been able to shorten the effect jet lag has on our travels and that’s a win in our books. Resetting our internal clocks is possible.

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