Traveling, jet lag, and time zones.
As if traveling weren’t enough stress already, we often also have to deal with jet lag. This all-too-familiar feeling is a temporary sleep disorder that can result in all kinds of nasty short-term health effects and can happen even without leaving our hometown. There’s all kinds of information out there about how to cope with jet lag, but how much of it is based on real science? Let’s find out.
🚫 You only get jet lag when you travel
People working night shifts can suffer from jet lag too. That’s because jet lag, simply stated, is a disruption in our internal clock. It happens when the 24-hour cycles in our body (eating, sleeping, hormone and body temperature regulations, etc.), get knocked out of sync with the external world around them.
✔ Go outside during the day
Light is how our internal body clock senses what time it is and when to sync up with its other 24-hour cycle processes. Controlling when you’re exposed to light can help keep your internal clock in sync with its new environment.
🚫 Avoid caffeine at all costs
While drinking it later in the day will definitely affect your sleep, there’s evidence to support caffeine can help you stay alert during the sleepy aftermath of jet lag.
✔ Travel while you’re young
People say this all the time for different reasons, but it also applies when it comes to jet lag. As we get older, the body’s internal clock shifts. Jet lag symptoms are often more severe in older adults and take longer to recover from.
🚫 Adjust to your new sleep schedule days before your trip
This works if your trip lasts more than a week. But for frequent business travelers or anyone else taking a short-term trip, adjusting to your new time schedule ahead of time doesn’t seem to help. It may be more practical for people taking frequent short-term trips to cities at least two time zones away, to just stay on their home-based schedule.
✔ Jet lag is worse in one direction
That common experience we have of one direction feeling harder to recover from than the other is real. Let lag effects from eastward travel tend to last longer than those from traveling westward.
🚫 Jet lag wears off
Although jet lag itself will wear off, frequently upsetting your internal body clock could lead to long-term consequences. This isn’t great news for business travelers or people constantly doing shift work. Jet lag is already linked to various chronic health conditions and can lead to overall sleep deprivation, but it could also increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
✔ Eat chocolate for breakfast
This isn’t really a tip for managing jet lag, but it could be. It’s not that eating chocolate in the morning is good for you, but rather eating it late at night can disrupt sleep and make the effects of jet lag even worse. Chocolate contains a limited amount of caffeine as well as theobromine, a molecule that can increase heart rate and possibly disrupt sleep. Bad news for dessert, but great news if you’re a chocolate-for-breakfast kind of person.
✔ Get your day drink on
This also isn’t really a general jet lag tip, but if you’re going to get a buzz in another time zone, it’s better to do it during the day. While alcohol can help us fall asleep faster, it also disrupts our overall quality and quantity of sleep. Unless you have meetings during the day, then maybe shoot for an early afternoon drink instead.
✔ Avoid heavy meals
Most of us already know heavy meals before bed can interrupt a good night’s rest, but that advice can be hard to follow after hours of airplane pretzels. Heavier meals, however, are difficult to digest and might even contribute to acid reflux. We don’t really want our cells working to turn food into energy while we’re trying to sleep, anyways. That can knock the rest of our 24-hour cycles out of sync and only add to the effects of jet lag. Settling for a light meal on your first night in town (or after a long night shift) may be worth it for a good night’s rest.
? Exercising before bed is bad
A lot reputable sources, including the National Sleep Foundation, recommend avoiding heavy exercise before bedtime. But the effects of exercise on sleep are pretty debated.  Research suggests that vigorous exercise in the evening doesn’t disturb sleep and is actually linked to improved sleep quality in healthy young adults. So, if you can’t find time to get in that workout, or if the only time you have is right before bed, the science is inconclusive here. Do whatever works best for you.
What do you want us to research next? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.