What in the Wild Blue Yonder is ‘Desynchronosis’ Or Jet Lag ?
A much more common name for this little malady is ‘jet lag’, and it’s really a Thing!
Of course, if you’ve suffered from its effects, you already know that. Its onset typically coincides with the crossing of several time zones; the more the merrier, or so it seems.
So, if you’re taking a flight from New York or Los Angeles for the first time… be advised. You too will be afflicted with ‘time zone change syndrome’ (aka, jet lag).
Why does this happen?
No matter how sophisticated we become as a civilization, the bottom line is that we are still biological constructs, and as such, “matters of the flesh” have great priority and precedence in all our lives.
We are still ruled by the basic needs of mankind; the need for sustenance, shelter, procreation and rest; and they literally dominate our existence. No matter how technologically-advanced our mobile devices become, our bodies still demand fuel and still produce waste (Yep! I said it. Waste!)
To quote A Few Good Men, ”These are the facts, and they are irrefutable.” Exactly, Kevin, thanks for that.
Thus, our individual sleep patterns are ruled by “circadian rhythms”, which is a fancy way of describing how our bodies function over a 24-hour cycle. These rhythms are imprinted on us as a “biological clock”. Jet lag causes an imbalance in that biological clock, which has everything to do with traveling to different time zones.
So what is this imbalance to our biological clock?
Good question. It’s one of those phrases that’s thrown around often but much less fully understood.
The biological clock is comprised of a variety of fluctuations in bodily functions over a 24-hour period that are influenced by our exposure to sunlight, and help determine when we sleep and when we are awake.
Fluctuations include the rise and fall of body temperatures and plasma levels of certain hormones.
So apply all this newfound awareness of our biological clock (or circadian rhythm) and blast it across four time zones in less than a day. Physically and intellectually we’ve made that transition to the new time zone. But our biological clocks are slow and resistant to change (just like my grandfather), leaving us to deal with the fact that our body still thinks it’s in New York City as opposed to Honolulu.
So when your mind is telling you to get to the beach and hang, your body is demanding a far different activity; and ‘demanding’ is an accurate term.
This dichotomy between the brain and the body stinks, especially when you’ve got a short window of vacation time; losing days of priceless beach time to the need to sleep is annoying, to say the least.
For those of us in America dealing with seasonal time shifts, the sluggishness we feel when we “fall back” just one hour(!) is directly attributed to desynchronosis. See? We don’t even have to be on a jet crashing through time zones to experience jet lag.
For most, this imbalance is pretty short-term in and of itself, without any preparation, although there are some cases of people who are severely affected by desynchronosis, often requiring several 24-hour periods to re-align their circadian rhythm. But for most of us, it’s an inconvenience (although I once offered myself up to about a billion hungry mosquitoes because of this malady).
But if you’ve got to be sharp and on your toes in the new time zone, it’s a very good idea to take a few simple steps to help nudge your circadian rhythms toward a wonderfully harmonious existence with your-Zen-self.
These simple steps are behavioral, which is good news. Changing behaviors—on a short-term basis, is not quite as easy as preparing for this pharmacologically, but much easier than having to deal with it after-the-fact. So without any further ado, let’s see how we can minimize the effects of desynchronosis all by our own sweet selves.
How to avoid Jet Lag
Choose your flight with your arrival in mind
Select a flight that allows for an early-evening arrival, and then do whatever you can to stay up until 10 pm local time. (If you absolutely have to sleep during the day, take a short nap in the early afternoon, but keep it to two hours, and set an alarm to make sure you don’t over sleep).
This is just a nice little way to allow your body and mind to recalibrate; it seems to be more effective and less time-consuming when one sleeps a bit.This one requires a little more forethought and planning. Anticipate the time change by getting up and going to bed earlier several days prior to an eastward trip, and later for westward trips.This is a cool little trick that doesn’t really impact your current existence, unless you’re the kind of person who keeps a strict schedule. Still, it’s worth it knowing that you’ll be sharp as nails at your destination. If traversing several time zones, adjust your rise and drop times in 30-minute increments. It’s remarkable how effective this little trick really is.
Adjust your time
Upon boarding the plan, change your time-keeping devices to the destination time zone.This is more psychological than anything else, and seriously, this might actually work for some. I’m not one of those fortunate few.
Avoid Certain Drinks
Avoid alcohol or caffeine at least three to four hours before bedtime.Both have an adverse effect on sustained sleep and this is true if one hasn’t drunken themselves into a stupor. That’s a sleep that takes a long time to recover. A drunken stupor also results in practically zero REM sleep (the true restful sleep the body and mind needs). So a glass of wine I fee4l is okay; a bottle is not. One shot of spirits might be toeing the line; depends on the individual’s tolerance. Your best bet is just to avoid booze for several hours prior to your arrival and subsequent bed-time.The point about caffeine should be self-explanatory. But it also applies to caffeinated supplements.
Avoid heavy exercise close to bedtime
Light exercise earlier in the day is okay.This seems like a no-brainer to me, and as a long-time exercise fanatic, I already know to avoid this well before bedtime. But the theory applies to exertion, not just exercise. For example, if you’re traveling to Lass Vegas from Pittsburgh, it’s probably not a good idea to drag 14 steamer trunks packed with books along with you, especially if you’re a penny-pincher (like me) and refuse to hire bellhops to schlepp your heavy luggage. Even dragging all that from the baggage claim of the airport to the car-rental area of many airports qualifies as exertion (to the nth degree!)The other point I wanted to make about this step is that when travelling on loooonnnnngggg flights (like from New York City to Tokyo), the body absolutely must be up and about at least once an hour. I tend to drop and knock out a bunch of pushups and hand-stands after a few minutes of light standing hops on my toes. I do this hourly. It keep my ankles thin. Do what works for you!
Bring earplugs and a blindfold
This will help dampen noise and block out unwanted light while trying to get some shuteye.This is another no-brainer, especially when the obnoxious kid in the seat in front of you is repetitively singing a SpongeBob song while flashing a laser-pointer at your forehead.
Try to get outside in the sunlight whenever possible.
Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock.Staying indoors worsens jet lag.Combine this with an earlier step about grabbing a two-hour power nap. If you can, do it outside, unless your destination is rife with mosquitoes. Then, either go someplace else of slather up with insect-repellent and heavy-duty sunblock.
There is a wives tale about certain types of foods being more conducive to the onset of desynchronosis.This really is not true, no more so than any other time. So if a chili-cheese dog is going to bite you, at least the bite won’t contribute to jet lag.
Something else to keep in mind when considering jet lag is stress, or the potential for stress. Stress can lead to sleeplessness that’s exacerbated when combined with jet lag, and it’s definitely something to keep in mind when preparing for your cross-time zone adventure.
There are two kinds of stress that typically come into play; “First Night Effect” and “On-Call Effect”.
The first Night Effect is caused when trying to sleep in a new or unfamiliar environment. Chances are pretty good that even if one does get to sleep in such conditions, achieving REM sleep—at least on the first night, is not very likely.
On-Call Effect is caused by a nagging concern that something is going to burst your sweet bubble of sleep; like a jangling phone call; an alarm of some sort (think hotel fire alarms); hotel hallway noises or some other kind of disruption.
So do a little preparation so you can sleep like a local at your new destination.