Jet lag is a condition that results from changes to the body’s internal clock called ‘Circadian Rhythms’. This is caused by rapid travel across different time zones. The circadian rhythm influences the biological, physiological and behavioral processes in our typical 24-hour cycle. These processes include the sleep-wake cycle, eating habits, core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, and other important body functions. When you travel across time zones, the rhythm gets disturbed which causes sleep disturbances, cognitive discomfort, fatigue, irritability, and digestive problems. Because of these, many people may lose the homeostatic balance of the nervous system causing temporary anxiety and stress.
The circadian clock system is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in Hypothalamus – at the base of the brain. The SCN takes the information on the lengths of the day and night from the Retina of the Eye. It then interprets and passes this information to the Pineal gland, which in turn secretes the hormone called ‘Melatonin’. Melatonin plays an important role in sleep. Normally the melatonin secretion peaks at night and drops during the day – maintaining the normal sleep pattern. The phase lag between normal Melatonin generation cycle and time zone difference is the main cause of Jet lag.
The speed at which the body can adjust to the new schedule in a new time zone depends on the individual as well as the direction of travel. Some people may require several days to adjust to a new time zone, while others experience little disruption.
Some simple things you can do to alleviate Jet lag:
• Select a flight that arrives during the daylight so that you get exposure to sunlight. Try to get as much sunlight as possible and stay up until 10 pm. This helps reset the circadian clock.
• If you were to sleep during the day, take a nap not more than 2 hours.
• Try adjusting to your new schedule a few days before you start the travel.
• Avoid taking alcohol and sleep pills for Jet lag. They may help manage short-term insomnia brought on by travel but do not solve the circadian rhythm. Let the body adjust itself.
• Stay calm when you get up in the middle of the night and not able to fall asleep. Any anxiety will further deteriorate your situation.
• Avoid strenuous exercise (including heavy Yoga poses), which otherwise would put you in a Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) overdrive mode and may disturb the sleep. Do only moderate exercise, stretching or walk – but not less than a few hours before sleep.
• Additionally, if you are an Iyengar Yoga Practitioner, the good news is that you are likely to get out of Jet lag sooner. On the day you land:
o Practice moderate Yoga poses that bring the physical and mental planes in harmony and reduce physical fatigue. This may include Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations), Standing Poses (Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana (III in particular)), Baddha Konasana, Upavishta Konasana.
o Supported forward bends like Adhmukha Swastikasana, Adhomukha Virasan, Pachimottanasana will help calm down the agitated nervous system. You can do these poses if you get up in the middle of the night and not able to fall asleep.
o End your session with Restorative Yoga poses that simulate Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – (all supported) Adhomukha Swanasana, Uttanasana, Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Halasan, Setubandha Sarvangasana, Viparita Karani, and Savasana. They will help reduce the stress and anxiety related to the travel and new unfamiliar environment – and calm down the agitated nervous system. This way you can bring the right balance in the autonomic nervous system thereby eventually reducing the stress and anxiety – improving cognitive functions and improving sleep.
o Simple Ujjayi and Viloma-II Pranayama (only if you are a trained practitioner) can help bring calmness.