“Help!? I’ve heard that traveling to Europe can cause jet lag. I’m about to travel for 14 hours across seven time zones overnight before I land for three days of intense business meetings. What can I do?” “PS I leave tomorrow night.” Best, Dave from Oura
Ok, full disclosure. That quote above isn’t an imaginary inquiry designed to lead into today’s article, but rather my own trepidations over an international journey. See, I know the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Although I work for Oura, a company that helps users track and improve their sleep, I’m about to break a number of the tenets of good sleep as I trade in my comfy bed for an airplane seat. So with this post, I hope to share some insights behind the mystery of jet lag and how to deal with its effects.
Let’s start with the basics: What is jet lag? Why does it occur? Can you prevent it?
Jet lag is the all too real feeling of the struggle to regain balance between your body and the rhythm of the time zone you’re in when traveling.
It occurs when our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal biological clock that controls when we fall asleep and when we wake up, is pushed to rapidly adjust to new conditions after travel across time zones. This “lag” can manifest in overall sluggishness, disturbed sleep, difficulty functioning and in some cases, an upset stomach.
It’s important to remember when traveling, your watch may automatically change to the correct time, but your body does not. So while you cope with external stimuli in your new surroundings as best you can, your system is fighting these changes to its normal routine, from different light exposure to irregular meal times and activity patterns.
While you can’t prevent jet lag, you certainly can be prepared for it.
Awareness and understanding is key. It’s thought jet lag can take up to a day per time zone crossed to fully dissipate. So on average, if you take a 7-hour flight, your body could take several days to return to its routine feeling.
The best way to limit the effects of jet lag is to try and mimic the schedule of the destination to which you’re traveling. Which means gently adjusting your sleep times, going to bed and waking earlier/later depending on the direction of your travel. Which makes sense, because you are nudging your circadian rhythm toward its adjusted time zone earlier.
Other helpful tips for dealing with jet lag aren’t all that different from those recommended to help you get a better night’s sleep, because sleep is fundamental to our overall health, too. No-brainer things like:
- Limit coffee, alcohol or heavy meals
- Don’t rely on sleeping pills
- Move around and exercise as much as you can on the flight and in your travel destination
But other ideas go a bit deeper:
- Wear a mask if you need to sleep on a plane or at odd hours in hotel rooms
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses if you’re working on a presentation late into the night
- Take a hot bath before bedtime when you arrive to help your body temperature cool before bed
I’ll be the first to admit, while I followed all of the rules above, I still felt the effects of jet lag. There’s no miracle cure for throwing off one’s circadian rhythm in seven hour chunks. But being aware of my sleep deficiency, and being able to track my response and recovery over the course of my trip, I was able to adjust as best I could.
Ever wondered what it looks like to try and sleep on an airplane overnight? A screenshot from my Oura app.
How Oura can help you deal with jet lag
The Oura ring is designed to help you you understand your body’s unique signals. Tracking and improving your restorative sleep, especially during times of long-haul travel, can have profound effects on your daily performance. With the right guidance, you can make optimal daily choices and recover faster. You’ll feel the difference in your mental and physical health. While there’s no secret weapon to prevent jet lag, Oura can help you deal with jet lag in ways you never could before.
Want to know more about sleep and recovery tracking? Learn how the new Oura ring can empower your decision-making.