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What Happens if Jet Lag Messes with Your Circadian Rhythm

We all look forward to that exciting day when vacation time has arrived. All of your worries at work have washed away and it’s time to kick back and relax. The only thing holding you back? That long and tiresome plane ride that awaits you before you reach your destination. If you’re traveling to an exotic locale such as Kyoto, Japan or Chiang Mai, Thailand, we’re talking a long flight (especially if you have a layover or two). Fast forward a bit. You’ve arrived at your destination, but the energy you had before you boarded your flight has turned into jet lag. We’ll take a look at what causes jet lag, and we’ll also give you some tips on how to minimize it.

Jet lag is a sleep disorder that affects your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is a fancy way of referring to your body’s internal clock that tells you when you’re supposed to feel alert or sleepy. Jet lag occurs when you travel across multiple time zones and your body has trouble adjusting to your new schedule. Jet lag kicks in if you’re traveling through two or more time zones and the severity of your jet lag increases as you cross additional time zones. If your destination is far, we’re talking about a pretty significant change in time. For example, Kyoto is 14 hours ahead of Houston. Chiang Mai is 12 hours ahead. That basically means that when it’s daytime in Houston, it’s nighttime in Kyoto and Chiang Mai and vice versa—so it’s no wonder your circadian rhythm falls out of whack.The direction you’re traveling makes a difference too. It’s been found that jet lag tends to be more severe when you’re traveling from west to east. For most Houstonians, if you’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean, that means your jet lag will hit you harder when you travel to your destination compared to when you return home. If geography isn’t your strong suit, think of it this way. If your connecting flight is somewhere like New York or Atlanta, this means you’ll most likely be traveling from west to east to get to your vacation destination. If your connecting flight is somewhere like Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’ll probably be traveling from east to west to get to your destination.At the Pasha Snoring & Sinus Center, we know that every patient is different. The same applies when it comes to jet lag. Some people are affected by jet lag more than others are, but here’s a good rule of thumb—it can take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to adjust to the time in your destination. If you’ve crossed seven time zones during your flight, this means it may take you up to a week to fully recover from jet lag. But my vacation will only last one week! you cry out. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to lessen the impact of jet lag.

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

One of our biggest recommendations is to adjust your sleep schedule in the days leading up to your trip. If you’re flying east (the most likely scenario), go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before your vacation. If you’re flying west, reverse the process by going to bed one hour later each night. The point of this is to gradually adjust your sleep schedule to the local time at your destination. By training your body to rise at a normal time at your destination prior to your arrival, the change in time won’t be as jarring as it would be otherwise.

Maintain Normal Sleep Habits

Sometimes there’s no better feeling than laying your head on a cool pillow and getting some z’s after a long day. While it may be more difficult to sleep outside of the comfort of your own home, try your best to mimic your sleep routine while you’re on vacation. These tips for quality sleep should help.For many, jet lag is an unfortunate part of the traveling experience. The more you prepare and the more proactive steps you take to tackle jet lag head-on, however, the more energy you will have to explore and enjoy your destination!Don’t let allergies ruin your vacation! Check out this blog to learn how climate change can affect your allergies. You can also take a look at the Pasha Travel Guide to see this year’s top 12 travel destinations, and learn tips for traveling allergy-free. This week, we’re featuring Cape Town, South Africa, and covering allergens to watch out for, fun activities to do while you’re there, and important medicine restrictions for travelers. Follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for more updates!