How To Beat Jet Lag

December 27th 2015

Taylor Bell

If you're crossing a few time zones this holiday season, this may happen to you: You wake up, step off the plane, and you feel terrible. You're irritated, tired, and disoriented. You're jet-lagged.

Having a case of jet leg — or desynchronosis, as it is medically called — is one way to start off your trip on the wrong foot, especially if you don't know how to overcome it. Why does it happen in the first place, and how can you shake it off?


Why jet lag happens.

Your body is regulated by an internal circadian rhythm or biological clock, as a video from Discovery News explains. Your body produces "controlled and regular releases of proteins, sugars, [and] hormones" at the command of your circadian rhythm, and that's why your body wakes up in the morning and why it shuts down at night.

But when your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it throws your body for a loop, affecting your eating habits, bowel movements, and sleeping patterns. The resulting symptoms can include headaches, drowsiness, lethargy, irritability, mild depression, attention deficit disorder, and disorientation.

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What drives your circadian rhythm? Sunlight and melatonin — the hormone responsible for keeping your sleep-wake cycle in sync. Sunlight causes the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus to reduce the production of melatonin. When there is less sunlight, it produces more of the hormone. 

Related: What an All-Nighter Actually Does to Your Body

"The further afield you go, the more out of sync your body normally is with the regular day-night cycle," Discovery News says. "So when sunlight hits your retina at the wrong time, your body gets all messed up, and you experience desynchronosis." 

Ways to cure jet lag

Changing one light-sensing gene might cure jet lag, researchers from a study at eLife found. Mice with the Lhx1 gene recovered more quickly from an eight-hour jet lag than mice who had the gene, the researchers found. Tweaking that gene may someday mitigate the effects of jet lag. The drawback, though, is a disruption in the mice's neurons and cell communication.

Short of that, taking more melatonin and eating insulin-rich foods may be a good way to treat the sluggish feeling that results from jet lag, some studies suggest. That's far less intense than messing with genes.

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Insulin may help "the stomach clock synchronize with mealtime," and eating foods that boost insulin, such as carbohydrates, "might help our body clocks enter a sleep stage, while light, protein-rich snacks could help the body to stay awake," according to the Daily Telegraph.

Here are some of the most-accepted recommendations for dealing with jet lag and resetting your internal clock (from NASA and the National Sleep Foundation, as reported by Discovery News):

  • Go to bed at a normal local time, such as 10 p.m., and wake up at normal wake time, such as at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., to help force your body to adjust to the new time zone.
  • Dim the lights before drifting off to sleep. Use bright lights in the morning.
  • Don't stay inside. Exposing yourself to daylight is the quickest way to help your brain reset your clock.
  • Don't oversleep. Use an alarm clock
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: They only complicate the sleep cycle.

See the full video below: