Tips for Getting Over Jet Lag

You don’t want jet lag to impair your big vacation to Europe but you know it’s going to affect your family. What can you do to ease your kids through jet lag as quickly and as easily as possible even while you are suffering too? Here’s the truth about jet lag, what it is, what is happening to your body and how best to deal with it. Be sure to build it into your plans as you can’t avoid it so be sure to not over-schedule your activities for the first few days to allow yourselves to adjust and keep happy!

  • What Is Jet Lag?

    Jet lag is a real physical condition also called desynchronosis. It’s a temporary disorder when your body’s internal rhythms are disrupted by traveling across time zones. Your body has its own internal clock and regulates your body systems according to it. It’s called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm of your body systems is coordinated by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. It triggers functions such a sleep, hunger and thirst. It reads clues from the environment such as darkness when it’s night and triggers sleepiness. It also affects other things including blood pressure, hormone levels and glucose in your bloodstream. When you travel across time zones, particularly from west to east (US to Europe), you can lose time and your circadian rhythm gets confused and “off” by some hours. The time it takes your body to adjust back again is called jet lag.

    People think of jet lag as being tired in the day or insomnia in the middle of the night. But you can have other physical symptoms too. It can manifest as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, dehydration or headache. Emotional symptoms can include anxiety, irritability and confusion.   The symptoms are the same for children as for adults.

  • How long will jet lag last?

    How long jet lag will last depends on how many time zones you have crossed and how you have prepared to address it. A time zone is a geographical region which has the same time everywhere within it. The world has 24 time zones, one for each hour in the day. Each zone runs from north to south like longitudinal linesthat are approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) wide.   As the earth rotates, dawn occurs at a set hour in one time zone, then an hour later in the time zone immediately to the west and so on through the 24-hour cycle. Thus, in the U.S., when it is noon. in the eastern time zone, it is 11:00 a.m. in the central zone, 10:00 a.m. in the mountain zone, and 9:00 a.m. in the Pacific zone.   For your trip to Europe, if you start your journey in California you’ll cross more time zones than if you begin on the East Coast.

    You often hear that traveling east is more difficult than traveling westward and this is actually true.

    Travelers flying east to Europe from the US will “lose” time. For example, on a journey from California to Paris a traveler loses nine hours. Sleep, meals, bowel habits, and other daily routines are all pushed ahead nine hours.

    Travelers flying west “gain” time and usually have an easier time adjusting than eastward travelers. However, they too experience symptoms of jet lag after landing because they still must adjust to a different schedule.

    Travelers flying north or south in the same time zone typically experience the fewest problems because the time of day always remains the same as in the place where the flight originated. I have experienced this flying to South America for example from the East Coast. Travelers may experience discomfort, but this usually results from confinement in an airplane for a long time or from differences in climate, culture, and diet at the destination location. Time differences do not play a role.

    There’s an adage that says it will take one day for your body to adjust for every time zone crossed. I think you can shorten this adjustment period by following a few “best practices.”

  • Best practices to minimize jet lag.

    Jet lag to some degree is inevitable. But here are some tips that will help combat the effects and get you back on an even keel as soon as possible. These tips are the same for parents as children but parents will need to create the proper environment for their kids. Be patient with kids now knowing what you know about jet lag.

    • Try to sleep on the plane. Wear comfortable clothes and bring a snuggly blanket or stuffed animal. If your children can’t sleep on the plane, just let it go.
    • Drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. Try to avoid sodas, caffeine and alcohol. Some folks think drinks with electrolytes are helpful.
    • Get up regularly and walk around the plane. Keep your circulation flowing.
    • Be rested at home even before your journey begins. Don’t depart tired.
    • Try to adjust to your new time zone as soon as possible. Don’t take a nap when you arrive. Get out and walk around after a reasonable time to relax.
    • Eat something substantial before going to bed. This will mitigate feeling hungry at 4am when your body is telling you it’s dinnertime at home!
    • Don’t plan on doing too much the first couple of days. You may feel like sleeping in a little bit and then staying out a little later. Sunset in summer is late in Europe anyway! Don’t beat yourself up over sleeping until 9am but don’t sleep through your vacation either!
    • Try to get eight hours of sleep every night.
    • Minimize use of technology before bed like smart phones or tablets. They stimulate your brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
    • Try to avoid sleep medications if you can. The use of melatonin receives a lot of attention. Do research if you are tempted to try it. Children should not use any sleep medications.
    • Draw the curtains to make it dark.
    • Have the kids bring their snuggly [little] stuffed animal or blanket. I bring familiar flannel pillow cases from home. Easy to pack and very comforting!
  • Returning Home

    Don’t forget you’ll have to do the reverse when you get home but as we said, it shouldn’t be so severe.  Sometimes it’s nice to get home a day before you have to function in your regular routine.  Give your kids some slack when they get back.  You can call it their disappearing souvenir!