Managing Travel and Jet Lag

One of the best parts about being an athlete is getting to travel and represent their Province, Territory or Nation. However, travel especially across multiple time zones can present its challenges as you need to plan for the time difference and how it affects you.

Flying to another province or country on an airplane, and changing time zones can be challenging physically and mentally due to a condition called jet lag. Jet lag is a temporary disruption of our circadian rhythm, better known as our internal clock. The circadian rhythm is a cycle of our daily activities like; when to sleep or when to stay awake, when to eat, and regulating body temperature. These effects can vary depending on the individual, and the number of time zones traveled.  The general estimate is it takes 1 day per time zone traveled to adjust to the new time you are in. ( eg. If you travel to a time zone 2 hours different, it will take you two days to adjust completely.  This seems to stop at about 6 days when long travel over many time zones, so it only takes you about 6 days to adjust on long trips.

Most common effects of jet lag:

  • Daytime fatigue/sleepiness, night time awakeness
  • Impaired mental or physical performance
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Disruption of sleep patterns and nutritional intake
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Illness –  you are more likely to come in contact with a new virus when you travel.  Clean surfaces you will touch with sanitizer and wear a mask if you are concerned about airborne viruses such as COVID.

When you travel across time zones your body takes time to adjust, which is caused by the light and darkness times at your destination. Our body’s internal clock uses the darkness as a time to release melatonin which makes your body tired and prepares you for sleep. If you travel east it can potentially add to the impact jet lag has on the body because you are losing hours of sleep and rest.

Luckily there are strategies to help you manage changing time zones which include:

  • Shift your sleep patterns prior to departure. Eg.  If you are traveling from Atlantic Canada to Ontario, go to bed one hour later, and get up one hour later. Eat at times you would eat if you were on Ontario time, do this 2-3 days before you leave. You may want to shift you training times to match when you need to complete if possible.
  • Minimize the use of electronic devices one hour before sleep and one hour after wake-up
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Hydrate often, The air in an airplane is often dry and you will become dehydrated especially on long flights.
  • Get up and stretch on longer flights.  Move your legs often to promote circulation.
  • Sleep during travel should be scheduled according to when it is night at the destination and should be avoided if possible when it is daytime at the destination.  If you arrive and it is daytime, try to stay awake if you can until it is dark.  A short 20-minute nap may help, but don’t allow yourself to sleep too long…. get up and do some exercise to stay awake.
  • Use eye masks, neck pillows, earplugs/headphones etc to help you sleep on the plane if needed.

If you want to learn more about the effects of jet lag and the disruption of your internal clock there is more information in the links below: