Jet Lag Prevention and Coping Strategies
“Jet Lag Disorder (JLD) is a recognized circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness (and sometimes general malaise and somatic symptoms) associated with transmeridian jet travel. It is a consequence of circadian misalignment that occurs after crossing time zones too rapidly for the circadian system to keep pace.” – Travel Med Infect Dis. 2009 Mar;7(2):102-10.
Translation: Aircraft travel across multiple time zones (particularly east-bound flights) can make you and your family feel tired, disoriented and sometimes ill.
There have been many strategies suggested to help minimize the effects, so we will review those that are safe and practical for traveling with your children.
The Best Treatment is Prevention!
There have been many studies that have show that the best way to prevent jet lag is to slowly advance your sleep schedule before you leave. A study published in ‘Sleep’. (2005 Jan 1;28(1):33-44) found that any more than 1 hour per day was too fast for your body’s natural rhythms to keep up.
If you are flying east, and crossing 3 times zones, go to bed 1 hour earlier each day and wake up an hour earlier. For very young children that may be more sensitive to a schedule, you may want to advance the bedtime by ½ an hour per day.
During the early morning hours, exposure to artificial light will help the body to adapt and make it think it is early morning. If you travel frequently consider purchasing a Light Therapy product such as the ones found in our Travel Gear section.
On the Plane
- Pack items in your carry-on that your family usually uses when going to bed (or for kids when they take naps), such as toothbrush, facecloth and moisturizer. If you are trying to sleep on your flight, ‘get ready for bed’ at your usual time.
- Pack inflatable neck pillows, eye covers and ear plugs.
- Use the window shades on the plane when there is daylight and you should be sleeping.
- Drink plenty of fluids. This will keep you hydrated and prevent the effects of dehydration which makes jet lag feel worse. Bring an empty water bottle and ask the flight attendant to fill it up. Adults should avoid alcohol.
- When you need to get up to go to the restroom, stretch while you are standing.
Once You’ve Arrived
- Avoid planning too much on the first day and plan rest time and naps for kids. Light exercise only in the first few days.
- Drink lots of fluids and consider oral rehydration fluids if your family is really sluggish.
- Adults can consider consuming caffeine products to keep yourself awake during the new daylight hours. Avoid caffeine too close to your new bedtime.