I never thought jet lag was a real disorder, I just thought it was a way of naming some temporary body symptoms like fatigue or gastrointestinal problems. But switching my body clock to half a day ahead of what I’m used to, and then flying for two days, I learned pretty quickly that jet lag can be a serious, and very real, disorder.
Desynchronosis, if I’m talking medical, hit me like a train. If I didn’t already have enough sleeping problems as it was, jet lag made it 100x worse, and it still is affecting my body a week later.
Jet lag occurs when you travel across multiple time zones at once, say going from the United States to Africa, like I did. Your body uses stimulation from light in order to keep your circadian rhythm, well, in a rhythm. When you shift that pattern very quickly it can lead to symptoms like tiredness, feeling unwell, lack of concentration, insomnia, mood changes, and constipation among others. I also have heard that symptoms can also depend on the direction you are traveling–which turned out to be completely true in my case!
Heading to Africa from home was amazing. I actually was able to sleep a lot on my 15 hour flight and prepare pretty well for the 8 hour time change. Although the third day there was the hardest by far, just trying to stay awake and alert, it quickly subsided after that day and I was good for the next two weeks. Right about the time when I was really getting used to the time change, I had to pack my bags and head home.
If I had known what kind of week I was going to have, I might’ve honestly stayed there haha. I was exhausted flying home, and just plain anxious because my flight was delayed and I would’ve had to wait 24 hours in my next airport if I missed my connecting flight. It took me almost two full days from the time I left my African home to the time I was back in my own bed.
I passed out that night (after catching up on my organic chemistry class since I had missed the first two days due to travel), only to be up from 3 am on. Then, I had to get moving bright and early, to go to my lab and lecture, so I could come back home and sleep some more. And this schedule has persisted ever since then, but I have also added in working five days a week. Saturday night I didn’t sleep for more than an hour, it was the longest night I’ve had in a long time.
Beyond that, jet lag weakened my immune system because it was putting so much energy into just keeping me moving and awake. (Plus all those kids on the plane never stopped coughing.) I have now had strep throat, the common cold, bronchitis, and an eye infection in the last seven days.
So jet lag has really destroyed me more so than I ever even thought possible. Next time, I’ll get a good nights rest before I leave, I’ll change the clocks to local time once I am on my way there, I’ll work on eating healthier in my new place, try to get as much scheduled sunlight as possible, and try to arrive early in the morning at my destination. Are there any other tips you use to prepare for jet lag or to get over it quickly?