If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you know it’s no walk in the park. You don’t realize how much we rely on routines until they’re torn asunder by a brand new time zone. Even a slight change of a couple hours can be annoying, but twelve to fourteen hours difference can be absolutely miserable. But what are the long-term effects of jet lag?
Long-Term Effects of Jet Lag
Our bodies use a system called a circadian rhythm to regulate our daily schedule. In its simplest form, our circadian rhythm dictates when we are likely to be asleep and when we are likely to be awake. This pattern is established based on the presence of sunlight, but it doesn’t work like a light switch. Your body uses a complex mixture of chemicals to reinforce this rhythm, and it can take some time to re-calibrate to a new pattern. What’s more, continued research demonstrates that the effects of jet lag reach further than we ever expected.
Additional Effects of Jet Lag
Jet lag doesn’t just wreck your sleeping schedule. Your meal schedule, metabolism, and activity levels are all related to your circadian rhythm. It’s a major reason why people tend to experience gastrointestinal discomfort after a dramatic time change. As convenient as flying is, our bodies really aren’t equipped to make the switch so suddenly.
As a result, you’re likely to experience cravings at odd times of the day, and you may wake up regularly throughout the night to use the restroom. Depending on the time difference, you may find it difficult to adjust without using a sleep aid such as melatonin to get back on something resembling a normal schedule. Even then, an American traveling to Europe or another continent in a similar set of time zones is more likely to fall asleep in the early evening and wake up in the wee hours of the morning.
Fortunately, your circadian rhythm can usually adapt in three to five days. As long as you’re dedicated to sticking to your new schedule. For most people, jet lag does not have long-term side effects. However, for pilots, flight attendants, and others who regularly cross into different time zones for a few days at a time it can be nearly impossible to establish a normal circadian rhythm. And that can have serious long-term side effects.
The Long-Term Side Effects of Constant Jet Lag
Sleep disorders and weight gain are the two primary side effects associated with patients who regularly travel in between time zones. The constant change makes it difficult for their bodies to regulate normal sleeping and eating schedules. This causes consistent sleep disruptions and negatively influencing your ability to metabolize nutrients.
For many patients affected by consistent exposure to jet lag, the first signs are sleep disorder symptoms. They may struggle to fall asleep, wake up throughout the night, or simply wake up feeling like they didn’t get much rest at all. For people experiencing sleep disorder symptoms, you can use a number of techniques to improve your sleep hygiene at home before seeking professional help.
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe the ideal environment and schedule for promoting healthy sleep. If you’re struggling with insomnia, try:
- Sticking to a sleep schedule
- Avoiding digital screens for an hour before bed
- Using an eye mask
These all can improve your sleep hygiene as well as your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, these techniques may not be enough if your body is constantly subjected to changing time zones.
When to Seek Professional Help
Have you tried improving your sleep hygiene for more than a month and are still experiencing insomnia or the symptoms of another sleep disorder? Then it’s time to seek professional help. At that point, your condition is considered chronic, and it’s unlikely to go away on its own. Fortunately, Dr. Mayank Shukla is the ultimate doctor for sleep in NYC. Together, you’ll find a treatment that helps you manage the long-term results of your jet lag.