Summer is in full swing and for many it’s vacation time. If your vacation consists of a long flight over several time zones, consider planning ahead so you can do your best to control circadian dysrhythmia (aka jet lag). Jet lag can affect your health and well-being by sapping energy, dulling cognition, and robbing you of much needed sleep.
The stresses of travel
For many, air travel and vacation may cause an imbalance in psychological and physical well-being due the stresses of travel. Scientists report that travel-related stress affects 93% of air travelers. They divide this stress into three categories:
1. Pre-trip stress include stressors related to planning, booking flights and hotels, and financial outlay.
2. Actual travel stress includes commuting, pre-flight screening, and flight.
3. Destination stress is related to the location, accommodations, weather, jet lag and lost vacation time.
All three fall into what they define as “the perceptual, emotional, behavioral, and physical responses made by an individual to the various problems faced during one or more phases of travel”.
Attention to this problem is growing because air travel continues to rise and so does the potential for stress-related health problems in the United States and around the world.
Causes of jet lag
The cause of air travel fatigue is not directly linked to the length of a flight, rather, it is caused by a disruption in the circadian rhythm (CR), the body’s natural internal 24-hour clock, which is reset daily. The disruption of the body’s CR has been shown to have a direct impact on health and disease, including suppressed brain function and elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone linked to high blood pressure and diabetes. What’s more, jet lag is recognized by CR sleep disorder by the International Classification of Diseases and has its own diagnostic code.
Physical activity and nature
Sport science has identified that exercise and contact with nature is helpful in easing travel fatigue and recovery from jet lag. The key is outdoor immersion—exposure to natural light, fresh air, and physical activity in a natural, outdoor setting.
Destination arrival tips
Upon arrival at your new destination stick to the new sleep schedule. If you arrive at night, go to sleep. If you arrive during the day, do your best to stay awake and avoid a mid-day nap. Instead, head outdoors and take a walk in the sunshine—this will help to reset your circadian clock. Skip wearing sunglasses, though. The use of sunglasses can block the natural light signals received by your eyes.
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Mounting research shows that air travelers who engage in outdoor physical activity in a natural environment feel greater vitality, and mental and physical well-being than those who don’t. Bottom line—take it outside!