Maintaining circadian balance while traveling can be difficult—according to the American Sleep Association, 93% of travelers have struggled with jet lag at some point. If you travel frequently, you’re no stranger to feeling groggy and overly tired or having a hard time concentrating or performing to your full potential when you land in a new time zone.
A temporary circadian rhythm disorder causes these feelings of jet lag—your body’s internal clock cannot sync to the new, unfamiliar time and environmental changes. It’s important to understand the risks of frequent travel and the best ways to combat the symptoms of jet lag to maximize your long-term health.
Health Risks Associated with Frequent Travel
People who frequently experience jet lag are more susceptible to excessive tiredness, insomnia, loss of appetite, clouded judgment, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty concentrating, and other issues. When jet lag interferes with your ability to function at peak performance, it can make you more prone to accidents on the job and can increase cortisol levels detrimental to healthy sleeping patterns. Frequent travelers also tend to have weaker immune systems and be more prone to illness and disease. Airplanes and hotels typically have drastically lower air humidity than what your body is used to, making it easy to get dehydrated during traveling.
People can feel the effects of traveling across time zones for up to 6 days, but the physiological impacts can last up to 11 days. It’s imperative to practice healthy habits to reduce the risks of jet lag and frequent travel and avoid cumulative effects that can be precursors to long-term health consequences.
Restore Balance and Recover from Jet Lag Symptoms Quickly
Jet lag’s severity varies greatly between individuals. It’s important to practice good dietary habits to alleviate symptoms of jet lag—drink plenty of water before and during your trip to stay hydrated, and avoid caffeine and alcohol (both lead to dehydration and sleep disruptions). Eating well and exercising frequently can also alleviate the feelings of jet lag, as a strong physical endurance can help you recover from symptoms more quickly. Changing your watch to the time of your destination before you arrive can also help psychologically prepare you for coordinating activities when you land.
An effective way to maintain circadian balance while traveling is to slowly start adjusting your schedule to match the new time zone in advance (for example, eating dinner at an earlier time that coordinates with your destination). Slow adjustments make it easier for your body to acknowledge the change in external activities, giving your circadian rhythm time to process the change and adapt accordingly. Since light is a primary cue regulating your circadian rhythm, soaking in some sunshine when you wake up feeling extra tired in a new place can help reset proper waking and sleeping cycles.