Saturday, July 13, 2024

Is Jet Lag Worse When You’re Traveling East Or West?

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Whether it’s for business or pleasure, traveling can be filled with excitement. It may also involve a bit of a disturbance in your sleep routine — aka jet lag. 

If you’re no stranger to traveling, you’ve probably encountered a bit of jet lag. If you’re a parent, maybe you’ve struggled getting your little ones adjusted, too. It’s something that you can experience when traveling to another country or even from flying across the United States. It can often feel like an inevitable occurrence — a price to pay for traveling.

However, everyone’s experience with jet lag is different, and it may not affect some people as much as it does others. This may ultimately depend on what direction you’re traveling and how many time zones you’re crossing.

Ahead, we spoke with experts to find out whether jet lag is worse traveling east or west and how you can reduce exhaustion on your next trip:

Traveling from west to east — or jumping ahead in hours — may wreck your sleep more.

You can look at jet lag as a temporary sleep disorder that occurs when your body quickly travels across time zones. “This occurs because your body’s internal clock, also known as its circadian rhythm, remains aligned with your original time zone,” said Michael DeLucca, a travel expert and founder of Otsy.

Traveling east ― or jumping ahead in time, whatever the case may be ― can be particularly challenging due to the loss of hours, making it feel earlier in the evening and causing you to stay awake much later than normal.

DeLucca said he’s extremely familiar with jet lag and finds that “traveling east from the West Coast to the East Coast impacts me the most,” and that he often needs two to three days for his internal clock to adjust. 

“I find myself staying up and waking up much later than usual. Conversely, when I travel back from the East Coast to the West Coast, I feel more exhausted but tend to sleep better on the first night, quickly re-aligning my internal clock,” DeLucca said.

There’s a reason this happens: Because “it’s easier to gain time as we increase our sleep pressure ― the need to go to sleep ― and so going to sleep at the new, later time is something we can more easily adjust to,” said Charli Davies, sleep expert and founder and CEO of Snuzzze. “When traveling east, we’re losing time and going to bed earlier. And waking up earlier is much harder as our bodies aren’t ready to sleep yet.” 

This doesn’t mean you’re immune to jet lag if you’re traveling the opposite direction. Any change in time zone can mess with you.

“Our wake and sleep cycles are regulated by our circadian rhythm, which is in turn regulated by the sun,” Davies said. “Traveling can completely throw out the sleep cycle that we’re used to and can leave us feeling generally sluggish and groggy.” 

This feeling is due to the sun now rising and setting at a different time. “Unfortunately, it’s not possible to have our bodies snap to this new time zone straight away. It can take time to adjust,” Davies added.

This is particularly true for young kids, who often thrive on consistency for sleep. 

“Add to this a new sleep environment, eating at different times, and the increased stress but also excitement of traveling, and we’re throwing our bodies and minds into a whole new routine, which can make it even harder to sleep,” Davies said.

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Dana Neibert via Getty Images

Keeping yourself — and your kids, if you’re traveling with any — on a routine will help you beat jet lag.

Here’s how to combat jet lag.

While getting over your jet lag may feel impossible in the moment, DeLucca said following a healthy routine is your best bet.

“I maintain my usual bedtime routine, going to bed at a reasonable hour according to my original time zone,” DeLucca said, noting that for him personally “this includes taking a hot shower, drinking a warm beverage and using a natural sleep aid.” He noted that if he can sleep well on the first night, the rest of the trip usually goes smoothly. 

You can also help diminish jet lag a little more quickly by getting some sun, according to the Cleveland Clinic, because “getting outside during daylight hours can jump-start alertness … light helps your body recognize it’s time to be awake.” 

When possible, DeLucca said he also takes a red-eye flight and sleeps as much as possible on the plane. This helps you avoid disrupting your sleep schedule and experiencing too much jet lag once you arrive at your destination. 

When coming back home, arriving in the afternoon so you don’t have too long of a day could help prevent jet lag, as well, according to Jonathan Alder, a travel expert and founder of Jonathan’s Travels.

“The most important part is making sure you get to bed at the time you normally would,” Alder explained. Routine is key.

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