Jet lag affects pretty much everybody who travels a long distance, which means if you're going to teach in Asia, you're going to want to arrive at least a week early, to give yourself a chance to adjust.
While you will almost certainly experience it, each of us suffers to a different degree, and there are things you can do to minimize the amount you suffer, and the length of time it lasts.
This article is going to cover the various ways in which jet lag will affect you, and suggestions for beating it.
Causes Of Jet Lag
Essentially jet lag is what happens when we change time zone. The bigger the time zone change, the stronger jet lag usually is. On top of this, the direction that you fly can sometimes make a difference as well, with East being the worst. The body finds it harder to adjust its internal clock to earlier nights than later.
As well as your internal sleep cycle, your digestive cycle is also affected. You may find yourself constipated or having irregular bathroom visits when you first change country. This could also be down to suddenly changing the type of food you eat as well.
Symptoms Of Jet Lag
There are quite a few different symptoms of jet lag, tiredness only being one of them. Again, not everybody suffers the same symptoms to the same degree, so your experience may vary.
Dehydration is one symptom that a lot of people overlook. As you'll be travelling on a plane, and in many cases moving to a tropical country, chances are you will already feel pretty dehydrated when you arrive anyway. It's important to make sure you keep well hydrated both on the plane, and upon arrival.
One of the most common symptoms is an issue with sleeping. Whether it's not being able to sleep at night, feeling sleepy during the daytime, or a mixture of the two, nearly everybody experiences this to some degree.
Our sleep cycle is controlled by our body releasing melatonin, but ultimately we are in tune with daylight. Suddenly changing from one timezone to another can cause the body confusion, and it takes a while to adjust to the new cycle. This can leave you feeling wide awake at 3 in the morning, or incredibly sleepy in the afternoon, and can be very frustrating.
Digestion issues and out of sync hunger periods can also be a symptom. You may eat a small amount of food at lunch time and feel incredibly full, only to feel starving a couple of hours later. This is all part of the process of adjusting, and we'll cover below how to adapt to it.
Generally jet lag can last anywhere from a couple of days to up to two weeks, depending on how well you deal with it, how often you travel, and how well you prepare in advance.
Preparing In Advance
Where possible, the more you can prepare in advance, the better. Here are a few things you can do.
1.) Start going to bed earlier (if you're flying East) or later (if you're flying west).
You can also try changing your whole schedule over the course of a couple of weeks, by eating meals and going to bed one hour earlier/later than usual, until you've made up some of the time difference.
This isn't always possible of course, so do the best you can for your own circumstances.
2.) Eat in sync with your destination on the plane.
Airplane meals are usually served in sync with the place that you have departed, so avoiding them and snacking in sync with your destination will go some way toward adjusting in advance.
Of course, you can end up feeling very hungry on a plane and those meals they serve are the best part of the whole journey, so it's understandable if you skip this step.
3.) Sleep like you're already there.
Whether or not you adjust your sleeping pattern for a few days/weeks in advance, you should still try to match your new timezone as soon as you get on the plane. Adjust your watch/phone clock immediately, and (try) to stay awake until it is bed time in the new zone. Use an eye mask or keep your light on to help you adjust.
Generally night flights are better for this, as it's easier to stay awake (or sleep) on a night flight than it is to sleep on a day flight.
4.) Get enough rest.
The more tired you are when travelling, the harder jet lag will hit you. While you might not be great at sleeping on planes, making sure you get a good night's sleep the day before you travel will be a bonus.
Coping Once You Arrive
Whether you arrive at night or during the day time can make a difference to how you adjust (as well as how much you slept on the plane). It's best if you can immediately try to synchronize with the new time zone, which might mean staying awake all day when you're exhausted.
Here are some other tips for speeding up the adjustment period.
1.) Get some sun.
As mentioned earlier, our sleep cycle is ultimately controlled by the sun, so the more we are exposed to it, the sooner our brains can adapt.
If you can't go out and spend time in the sun, try to sit close to the windows or any natural light available.
2.) Get some exercise.
Being active also helps your body adjust, so even something like taking a brisk walk is advisable. If you absolutely must nap/rest, try to limit it to 30 minutes, as anything longer will actually make the jet lag worse.
If you exercise in the early evening, it will help tire you out and get to sleep on time, and early morning exercise will help wake you up. Plus, you'll have more energy to enjoy your new surroundings as a result of the increased blood flow.
3.) Eat light meals.
It's going to take your body some time to adjust to new eating habits (and possibly new foods altogether), so try to keep things light in the first day or two, and avoid rich foods. A protein-rich breakfast helps too.
4.) Arrive early.
A lot of schools will have an induction or training week, and while this is easier than the actual teaching, it can still be intensive. If at all possible, try to arrive 3 or more days in advance so that you have time to adjust and get used to the new timezone before your brain needs to be properly switched on.
5.) Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
The two things that many people rely on the most during their jet lag periods can actually prolong the suffering. When you are feeling tired, caffeine seems like the natural antidote, and likewise, alcohol may help you nod off at night. Both of these have been known to make jet lag last longer though, so avoid them for the first day or two where possible.
6.) Consider taking melatonin.
Some research shows that melatonin tablets (the chemical your brain naturally releases to help you sleep) can help you adjust your cycle as well. Take one tablet about 30 minutes before the time you want to sleep, and do so for a few days. This can also be helpful on the plane and during the preparation stages.
Of course, you should ask your doctor for more advice on melatonin.
For most of us, jet lag is just something that we're going to experience, no matter what we do, so the best thing is to arrive in the country a few days earlier than you're needed. That extra period will make a huge difference when your training/work starts.
Take note of the things we've discussed in this article, and do whatever you can to get yourself adjusted quickly and without too much discomfort.