What Is Jet Lag?

Wide Awake, Need to Sleep

Woman prevents jet lag on flight
Colin Anderson / Getty Images

I have been traveling the world since I was six years old. I've been fortunate to never be really bothered by jet lag during my travels. But after returning from a 10-day family trip to Tokyo, I was knocked to my knees with a jet lag that lasted almost a month.

What is jet lag? It's a physiological condition that results from rapid changes to the body's natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). It most often occurs after passing through several time zones quickly, as with long flights, and tends to be exacerbated when journeying in an eastward direction. 

The result is that you tired and sluggish after a long flight, as your body reacts to the sudden time changes from spanning a huge distance in a short amount of time. With your body clock thrown off, it's more difficult to follow its usual routine. Your body is not keeping time with its destination, with night and day mixed up.

A flight from Chicago to Los Angeles with a time zone difference of only two hours may not cause jet lag symptoms, but flights longer than that can result in the fatigue and overall sluggishness that is associated with jet lag. Jet lag is usually associated with crossing at least four time zones, but long flights within the same time zone (north-south directions) can produce the same sorts of symptoms.

Even the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade group that represents the world's airlines, recognizes the effects that jet lag can have on passengers. To that end, it created the SkyZen app. Used with a Jawbone fitness wristband, the app allows passengers to view their activity and sleep patterns throughout the whole flight experience. 

Users can enter their flight number, date and class of travel, and SkyZen will automatically collect and aggregate the data and offer passengers personalized insights on their flight activity and strategies to minimize jet lag before and after the flight. it will also offer helpful hints will allow users to improve their travel experience and combat jet lag when crossing time zones.

Another solution that air travelers swear by is Melatonin, a natural hormone made by your body's pineal gland. But when you're affected by jet lag, taking a melatonin pill can help you fall asleep and alleviate symptoms. It can be bought at any drug or vitamin store or even online. Check with your doctor before taking it, especially for those who may be on medications that could be affected. 

The Sleep Guru offers nine recommendations to combat jet lag after your next flight.

1. If possible give yourself 24 hours before you plan anything after the flight.

2. Drink plenty of fluids.

3. Unpack and get yourself settled so you are not in chaos and surrounded by your luggage.

4. Lie on your bed and put your legs up the wall for 10 minutes and take long, deep breaths.

5. Eat something light (juices, salads, soups or fruit) and avoid heavy, greasy foods.

6. Get a good massage or do self-massage with sesame-seed oil.

7. No coffee or alcohol for 24 hours.

8. Get good oils into the body e.g. Omega 3, 6 and 9; olive oil or ghee.

9. Try some yoga or gentle stretching.