Jet lag is the special tax we pay for the luxury of international travel. Even complaining of having jet lag can be a bit of a humble brag about your ability to holiday abroad – do not expect sympathy! Humour aside, the combined weight of physical symptoms with the travel blues on returning home can certainly be a shock to the system. To make your time zone hop a little bit more manageable, read on.

To understand and address jet lag, we need at least a basic understanding of the body’s internal clock and the symphony of hormones that all work in harmony when the conditions are right.

Our circadian rhythm is controlled by diurnal fluctuations in the stress hormone cortisol and the sleep hormone melatonin. On exposure to the morning sun (or the light from your phone screen) our bodies up the amount of circulating cortisol to bring on wakefulness. Ideally, cortisol levels wind down in the evening, with exposure to darkness stimulating the secretion of melatonin to soothe us into dreamland. Our bodies fall into this faithful routine according to the rise and fall of the sun in our native time zone. Understandably, it’s a rude shock to our primal biology when this cycle is interrupted by lack of sleep, interrupted eating patterns, exposure to fluorescent airport light and artificial air.

Classic symptoms of jet lag include:

  • Disturbed sleep in the form of insomnia, excessive waking and unrefreshing sleep
  • Cognitive effects such as reduced alertness and concentration
  • Daytime fatigue (seriously frustrating if you are on a tight site-seeing schedule!)
  • Changes to digestion and gastrointestinal distress
  • Generally feeling sickness or moodiness

With a little knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes, it’s easier to manage the intensity and length of jet lag.

Natural light exposure

When you touch down in your destination, make it a priority to get some exposure to the natural light of that time zone. If you land at night, avoid artificial light and get under the night sky to help adjust your melatonin secretion. Get up with the sun the following day and expose your retinas to morning light to help jog that cortisol into action.

Ground yourself

Release your feet from your footwear and feel the local grass and soil. This is a fabulously simple technique for acclimatising to your destination! It is also beneficial for re-balancing the body after significant in-flight electromagnetic field exposure. 

Hydrate

We have all intentionally dehydrated ourselves to avoid needing the toilet on long haul flights. It’s just so awkward having to climb across sleeping strangers to use a cramped bathroom in the sky. The cabin air is so tightly regulated that there is little humidity -meaning the air is very drying. Staying hydrated is ultra-important for the tissues of our body and brain to function properly. The increased demand also means the need to urinate will be less likely. Carrying some electrolytes or coconut water in addition to your water bottle will increase the efficiency of your fluid intake and prevent dry skin and lips on landing.

Eat

I’m not afraid of flying, but I am terrified of in-flight meals. Preservative laden and devoid of nutrition, aeroplane food isn’t really worth the energy it takes to digest it. Timing your food consumption to the assigned mealtime at your destination can be less intrusive to your natural metabolism. Make sure to pack nutrient-dense snacks that contain some fats and protein to stabilise your blood sugar throughout the journey. Bliss balls, raw nuts, vegetable sticks and dip are a few popular choices. Fasting during your journey is the low-maintenance option!

Sleep

I envy those sleepers who can somehow sleep upright amongst the chatter of passengers and the incessant roar of jet engines. If this is you, skip this part. Earplugs, a sleeping mask and herbs are my mainstays for getting some mid-flight shut-eye. Carry a few relaxing herbal tea bags in your cabin baggage and ask for some hot water to steep them in. Extra points for remembering your keep cup! Magnesium and Rescue Remedy can also work a treat if you’re a little nervous about flying or need some extra help to get some rest! Try to only sleep during the night-time hours of your destination.

Remember that any remaining jet lag is temporary! If you fly frequently for work, or experience fluid retention, insomnia or serious medical conditions, consider recruiting the support of a qualified practitioner to provide individualised advice.

Travelling soon? Get a tune-up at our Wellnation Clinics before jetting off!

Posted by Alexandra McPhee
Alexandra McPhee

Alexandra (Lexie) McPhee is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and qualified, practising Naturopath. Her special interests include writing, communication with the natural world, the history of medicinal plant use and creating her own herbal oils and salves. 

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