How to recover from jetlag ?

Sleep hygiene


In humans, sleep/wake alternation is managed by an internal clock linked to the alternation of day and night. However, external factors can sometimes disrupt this regular rhythm. This is the case with travel, where the destination time zone is different from the usual one. The body undergoes what is commonly known as the « jetlag » effect : it takes time to get used to this sudden change of rhythm.

So what can we do about it? Is there a cure for jet lag ?

Causes of Jetlag

For the circadian rhythm, a change of time zone implies a modification of environmental synchronizers. Day and night schedules will be modified, as will those for getting up and going to bed. The body will then need time to modify its rhythm and synchronize its internal clock with the new day/night rhythm.

Depending on each individual’s sensitivity, this change in rhythm can lead to a variety of physical or psychological problems : insomnia and/or daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, headaches, digestive difficulties, increased pain….

The intensity of these disorders varies according to the ability to sleep during the journey, the number of time zones crossed, and the direction of travel. Heading west, the internal clock will be ahead of the day and night schedules. It will be easier to fall asleep, but you’ll wake up earlier. Conversely, as you move eastwards, the clock will be late. It will be harder to fall asleep and you’ll wake up later.

A few tips to avoid fatigue

There are a number of ways to prepare for your trip and avoid compromising the quality of your sleep for several days :

  1. Adjust your schedule a few days before your trip. Gradually push back mealtimes and bedtimes if your destination is in the West. Bring these times forward if the destination lies to the east.
  2. During the journey, a mask and earplugs can help you sleep. Avoid coffee and alcohol, and stick to a light meal to aid digestion and promote sleep. Stay well hydrated during the flight, and avoid snacking, so as not to exacerbate digestive problems on arrival.
  3. Once you’ve arrived at your destination : don’t let yourself fall asleep if you’re tired, and hold out until bedtime. A short nap can help you to wait it out.
  4. Use light to your advantage. On an easterly trip, exposure to more light in the morning can help you wake up earlier. Conversely, if you’re traveling west, exposure to light in the afternoon will help you put off bedtime. Physical activity has the same effect as light, and if done at the right time, can help you get back into the right rhythm.
  5. Adapt to the rhythm of mealtimes as soon as possible, to help your digestive system synchronize more quickly. In situations where the time difference is very significant, it is advisable to eat according to the local schedule, adapting the quantities and types of food to your needs, and not to force yourself to immediately adopt the “local” diet (for example: a very hearty, heavy or spicy meal is probably not suitable when it’s still morning for the circadian clock).