I just returned from a 3 week trip to Asia. The trip was amazing and I was bursting with energy each day, eager to walk, talk, view and eat my way through amazing countries and cultures that were new to me. I was even able to adjust fairly quickly on my arrival – after traveling for over 24 hours – to my new environment within about a day.
So I can’t understand why on my return home, I am still struggling on day 5 to get back on track?
I realize it’s not just me. My entire family is feeling the same way. Yesterday, my son slept for 18 hours and I woke him up in time for dinner. He had the same experience two days before. I have dragged myself out of bed midday the past few days and walk around in a caffeine induced fog. For example, I just went to put away a blouse in my closet but stood staring at the hanger for a few seconds, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I am moving that slowly.
Trying to pick a restaurant to meet my friend at for lunch is totally overwhelming. It feels like my brain is working at less than half speed. Writing this blog post is nothing short of torture. Jet lag.
I decided to do a little research today on jet lag since I can’t will myself out of it, nor are any of the methods I am using to get past it working – especially the stay up the first night and force yourself back into your normal clock and routine. That did not work at all.
Jet lag is a real physiological condition that causes upset to our circadian rhythm or our body clock. It happens due to rapid long-distance transmeridian (east to west or west to east) travel. The term derives from the arrival of travel by jet aircraft because travel before was not rapid enough to cause any such significant phenomenon.
When traveling across a number of time zones, our bodies become out of sync with our new time zone and how we experience daylight and darkness in contrast to what we’re used to. As our natural patterns are upset, our rhythms for eating, sleeping, body temperature and even hormone regulation don’t correspond to our environment. These discrepancies are what we experience as jet lag.
Jet lag is not related to the length of a flight but more to the distance traveled. And it involves east-west or west-east travel only. So a north-south flight or vice versa will not result in jet lag. In my limited research, it has been suggested that recovery could take about a day per time zone crossed. From the map above, it looks like I crossed 7 time zones to get home. Apparently the maximum disruption is +/- 12 hours so if the time difference between your two locations is greater, you can subtract that number from 24. So 7 days. And, by the way – traveling east is worse than traveling west because the body clock has to be advanced, which is a more difficult adjustment than delaying it. Traveling east by 6 – 9 time zones is apparently the most difficult.
Symptoms can include difficulty with sleeping, poor mental concentration, fatigue, headaches, irritability and indigestion. For me, the difficulty with sleeping (wide awake at odd hours, crashing during the day, tossing and turning) explains all of the other resulting symptoms!
Interestingly, I stopped fighting the system on about day 6. I went with the flow a bit more. Slept when I needed to sleep. Drank iced tea most of the day but slept until I woke up naturally. By day 8 I was beginning to feel human again. Here at day 10, I’m almost ready to say that I’m back to normal.
I’m sure like many things, jet lag sensitivity will vary by person. And perhaps frequent travelers get used to it to a degree. For me, I will continue to experiment with methods to gain more rest en route (though I’m just not a good jet sleeper) and methods of recovery. Or perhaps I will just block out the number of days I need when I return from future travels to recover peacefully and without expecting 3 blog posts to be written on day 2. Or day 3 or 4.