If you are lucky enough to be changing time zones these holidays, make sure you don’t waste a minute to jet lag.
Why do we get jet lag? The answer is simple. Our bodies are finely calibrated to each second of every day through our internal body clock – and with 100 trillion cells in the body, each of which has its own version of a body clock, this is one very delicately balanced organism.
We’re aware of the obvious indicators like blood pressure, digestion, alertness and fatigue, but there are daily rhythms to the organs, the skin, the brain chemistry and hormones, and much more besides. This incredible collection of processes is delicately balanced within the circadian rhythms that are unique to each of us and which take place within a 24 hour-ish cycle (it varies for each person). Researchers study this stuff by putting people in dark places with no indicators of time, and what they have discovered is that these rhythms continue to take place even when we are in total darkness for weeks upon end. For those of us outside the lab, they are also regulated and reset each day by exposure to sunlight.
What happens when we change time zones?
We strap ourselves into a large metal container and fly through the sky, landing in a different time zone for our holidays or business trips. However our bodies, still operating to our habitual daily rhythms, continue as before — until we have sunlight upon our eyes, which indicates to the main director of the biological clock (nuclei behind the bridge of the nose above the spot where the two optic nerves intersect) what time it is. Then the body starts changing its processes to the new time. Meanwhile, we may have slept through a day; desired a steak at 4am or feel like we are walking through invisible treacle and communicating at a fraction of our abilities. The perennial question is: how do we minimise the transition period, or avoid these symptoms altogether?
Act like you are already there
Experts suggest that you eat more lightly than usual and drink plenty of water on your flight. After you get to the airport and check in, start thinking about what time it is at your destination and when you would be eating meals between now and then. Set your watch to the new time zone if you like. Try to time your food intake to your destination. For example, would you be eating a huge meal at midnight? Most airlines allow you to order special meals at time of booking: get the salad.
This will start to tell your body that something different from your usual routine is occurring. Avoid caffeine, heavy foods and soft drinks during the flight as this may dehydrate the body further (flying is very dehydrating) – causing an even more painful transition to the new time zone. Get up and walk about, stretch, to try to get your blood moving around the body while on board.
Get outside as soon as possible
When you arrive, get outside (preferably into sunlight) as soon as possible because the body has an immensely sensitive capacity to update itself to the new time zone if you allow it the circumstances. Our bodies detect the humidity in the air, and even getting your skin into night-time fresh air will help.
Try to stay awake until it’s time for bed at your new destination – experts all recommend 10pm or so. If this is impossible, aim for 1.5-hour naps as this is the length of a sleep cycle and you will help to refresh yourself while still being able to sleep at night.
Consult a specialist
Because the secret rhythms of time in the body are run by the unconscious mind, you could see a hypnotherapist who can help you communicate with your unconscious mind that the trip is coming, that you have arrived, and as an added bonus, set up a trick of time distortion in the brain so that the flight seems to be short and comfortable!
Helen Wayland is a clinical hypnotherapist, personal counsellor and EMDR therapist working in St. Kilda, Melbourne.
0412 443 899