How to deal with sleep issues and jet lag

Sleep issues affect everyone for one reason or another. Worry, stress, too much caffeine or alcohol before bed are also a factor. In addition, sleep patterns can go haywire when jet lag is on board (pardon the pun). You know the feeling. Landing at the airport, super excited about your well planned holiday only to find yourself zonking out as soon as you hit the hotel room. Summer is a popular time for expats living in hot climates to travel to cooler climates, therefore being well prepared ahead of time may help.

Jet Lag (desynchronosis) and how it affects sleep patterns

On a trip from Dubai to Australia, I found myself suffering from the worst jet lag ever. I followed all the jet lag avoidance advice however, still ended up feeling exhausted and disoriented. It starts to happen on the plane. My head starts the “nodding dog” thing, and next minute I’m falling asleep on the passenger next to me and wake up drooling. Crossing more than two or three time zones makes it worse.

The hypothalamus runs the show

The hypothalamus in the brain controls hormones, blood pressure, body temperature, and helps the body keep to its own set timings. These are thrown off with jet lag. Flying East worsens jet lag because of the loss of time. However, travelers flying West gain time, therefore, feel differently. Adjusting to different time zones may cause problems in those with ongoing sleep issues.  

Here are some ways to deal with jet lag to help regulate sleep

  • avoid alcohol and caffeine during the flight
  • make sure you are able to check into accommodation on arrival. Arriving at 9 am to be told you can’t check in until 2 pm isn’t ideal.
  • try to book a long haul flight that breaks half way
  • fit into the local time zone as soon as possible
  • Get as much sunshine as you can when you arrive because this help the body clock to reset itself

Differing opinions on melatonin

  • some people take melatonin, however, this must not be mixed with alcohol. There are mixed opinions on taking Melatonin. The FDA in the USA does not recommend taking it. Studies carried out by the British Journal of Sports Medicine say differently.  Carry out your research and decide accordingly. 
  • stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • eat clean and healthily. Overloading the body with toxins or stimulants makes the symptoms of jet lag worse.
  • personally, I like to to use Neals Yard pillow spray to help me get on track with new time zone sleeping patterns
  • Valerian is popular for some. Try taking it a week before travel to see if it works for you
  • Homeopathic remedies  may help. I have tried Arnica,  and Cocculus 
  • I confess to using my hypnosis for sleep recordings before I travel. Firstly on the flight, secondly, when I arrive. This puts me back on track quickly.  

Good quality sleep

Good quality sleep is necessary for the rejuvenation of mind and body.  According to the great British Sleep Survey, 51.3 % of people have trouble with sleep. Without the benefits of rejuvenating sleep, health is likely to suffer in some way.  In addition, performance at work may be affected too.  The Japanese have recognized the value of a mini nap during the day, and some companies encourage staff to do this to recharge themselves.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation compromises the immune system. A weakened immune system causes the body to be more susceptible to illness and disease. Similarly, tossing and turning until the early hours increases the feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and tiredness. Our circadian rhythms (natural internal clock) have also become disrupted with modern lifestyle changes. 

Blue and false light

In ancient times we slept when the sun went down and woke at sunrise. Today false light gives us light any time.  One of the worst disruptors of sleep is blue light emitted by electronic devices. Feelings of tiredness are compounded with unhealthy habits.  Many people report having an energy slump in the day and instead of taking a brief nap they reach for caffeine or chocolate to keep them awake and alert. Firstly, this causes a blood sugar spike, secondly an energy crash soon afterward.

Technology overload

Our minds are overloaded and overstimulated with technology, digital and social media.  As a result, quality of sleep suffers. In the days before TV, Netflix, internet and all other electronic gadgets, families spent evenings talking, playing games, having sing-songs enjoying family time. Today we are a ’swipe’ nation.  Our brains are bombarded with information constantly. Most importantly, there is very little disconnect time.

How to improve quality of sleep

According to experts from Harvard and Oxford, we sleep two hours less than we did in the 1960s. Here are some tips to help you find better quality sleep:

  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible.  Light suppresses melatonin
  • Aim to go to bed between 9 pm and 11 pm
  • Don’t obsess about the quantity of sleep you have, focus on the quality. 
  • Don’t lie in at the weekends, this confuses the body clock

Switch off devices before bed

  • Stay off digital devices two hours before bedtime.  This reduces your exposure to blue light
  • No coffee, alcohol or heavy foods a few hours before bed
  • Pay attention to your energy slumps. Don’t reach for a coffee or sugar snack.  If you are able, try to have a 10-minute nap
  • Make the bedroom electronic free. No TV, no electronics.  Above all create a place that is both relaxing and calming
  • Place plants in the bedroom.  This helps improve the quality of air
  • Make sure the bedroom is not too hot. Aim for a temperature of 15.5-20C
  • Maintain a regular sleep routine and wake up at the same time each day
  • Don’t use the snooze button as it confuses the body
  • Try chamomile or valerian tea. Ensure there is plenty of magnesium in your diet
  • Use essential oils such as lavender in the bath or in a diffuser
  • Maintain a regular sleep routine and wake up at the same time each day
  • Exercise regularly

It is possible to wake up recharged, rejuvenated and ready for the day.  Try implementing some of the above tips.  Your mind and body will thank you.

Feel free to read the other wellbeing posts on the blog.

How do you deal with jet lag? I’m always interested to know.


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