Jet lag. I hate those two words, but they seem to find me several times a year and cuddle up beside me in bed while I stare at the ceiling at 3 am. I returned recently from a 3 week trip abroad for work to Taiwan and South Korea. Since I’ve been back, my family, friends, and co-workers have all asked how my trip was and how I’m doing now that I’m back. My reply is usually that I am tired and grumpy because jet lag woke me up too early this morning,and that my body is confused so I ate the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich I was craving for breakfast. I discovered that many don’t know what jet lag is, because they haven’t traveled through time zones, so they don’t understand why I want to take a 5 hour “nap” or can’t go to bed until 4 am when I come back from a trip abroad. Please allow me to graciously explain so that you’re not offended next time jet lag causes me to snap at you. (No really, it’s not me!)
According to the Mayo Clinic, jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder when the body’s internal clock is confused about when it is time to be awake and when it is time to be asleep. Additionally, the body is confused about when it is time to eat.
If I arrive in Taiwan at 11 am, because of the 12 hour time difference, my body thinks it’s 11 pm and wants to go to sleep. When it’s 6 am and time to eat breakfast, my body thinks it’s 6 pm and dinner time and wants some pizza.
There’s also a general feeling of sickness. Many people compare it to having a hangover- a slight headache, nausea, a general feeling of unwellness. But imagine having a hangover for 2 weeks! Many sufferers also complain of stomach problems and difficulty concentrating.
Doctors say that it takes one day for your body to readjust for every hour of time zone change you go through. Taiwan was 12 hours ahead, and South Korea was 13 hours ahead, so it should take me about 2 weeks to fully get rid of my jet lag. I will admit that the first week is the absolute worst though.
Usually when I am on the trip, I do better with jet lag because I am there for a purpose, have things to accomplish, and am generally excited to be there. When I come home though and have to go back to the daily grind, it’s much harder to readjust.
So here are a few tips I have for beating jet lag.
- When you get to your destination, if it’s night, you must go to sleep even if you’re not tired. If it’s day, you must stay awake, even if you’re about to pass out. You need to get your internal clock adjusted to the time at your destination. This also means trying to take as few naps as possible, which trust me, is SO hard!
- Get as much sunlight as possible. This will help your body produce more melatonin to regulate cells in your body. It’s all very scientific. Don’t ask me the details; just get more sunlight!
- Cool it on the caffeine. Caffeine messes up sleep, so it’s no wonder this can enhance the symptoms of jet lag. Also, drink as much water as possible. Dehydration makes jet lag worse.
- Take sleep aids. But, be careful with this one. Usually for the first 2 or 3 nights I’ve crossed a considerable amount of time zones, I take a few Tylenol PMs or the like to help myself sleep through the night. If I don’t, I’ll wake up at 3 or 4 am no matter how tired I am. Doing this helps me sleep until at least 6.
Well, I’ve been back from my trip for about a week now. I’m still consistently waking up at 6 am, but at least I’m not taking naps at 7 pm anymore, because I just can’t keep my eyes open for a single second longer. I’ve been eating breakfast food for breakfast and dinner food at dinner time. I don’t feel nauseous for no reason, and I haven’t yelled at anyone today because I’m grumpy. I’d say I’m on the up and up!
Until next time, jet lag. Until next time.