If you’re a national-level (or even amateur) bodybuilder, chances are you’ve had to fly across several time zones to compete in a contest. Sadly, this can totally throw off your body’s natural sleep-wake cycles and disrupt your routine. (Or worse yet, ruin your peak week.) The good news is there are simple protocols to fend off jet lag and ensure you don’t get too off track when traveling.

What Causes Jet Lag?

Jet lag (desynchronosis) arises from an acute disruption of your body’s inherent biological clock. This typically occurs after flying across multiple time zones (thus the term ‘jet lag’). Generally, the more time zones you travel across, the more severe the symptoms become.

Jet lag can bring about a multitude of unwelcome symptoms, such as lethargy, fatigue, insomnia, and headache.1 The good news is that jet lag is reversible, since your body operates on an internal clock (circadian rhythm) based on light-dark periods which affect your endocrine system (especially cortisol and melatonin production).2

Exposure to light environments (such as daylight) reduces melatonin synthesis by stopping stimulation of norepinephrine, whereas exposure to dark environments does the opposite.

Thus, it is easier for people to fall asleep when it’s dark outside as opposed to bright, sunny times of the day.

By the same token, cortisol levels typically spike shortly after waking up and then fluctuate throughout the day based on external stressors (such as physical exercise or stressful situations). When your sleep-wake cycles are disrupted, as in the case of traveling through several time zones, your cortisol rhythms are thrown off and daily functions become quite a chore. Essentially, jet lag makes your body feel like it’s on a flip-flopped schedule in terms of circadian rhythms.

This is why normal circadian rhythms are imperative for proper adrenal function and melatonin production (which leads to healthy sleep-wake cycles). Read on to learn about the ramifications of jet lag, what determines the magnitude of those effects, and also how to properly handle the condition.

What Are the Effects of Jet Lag?

If you’re in the fortunate group of individuals who have yet to experience jet lag, it might be best to think of it like a hangover (albeit it from flying instead of alcohol). Much like everyone experiences certain ramifications from drinking too much alcohol, jet lag tends to affect different people in different ways.

Nevertheless, jet lag’s primary ramification is disrupting sleep patterns, which inherently leads to a whole host of not-so-fun issues. Nothing beats a good night of sleep, just like nothing is worse than a night tossing and turning in bed. Research affirms that the spectrum of complications from jet lag and abnormal sleep patterns may include3:

  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Delirium
  • Dyspepsia/indigestion
  • Headache
  • Constipation (or diarrhea)

Curious how the magnitude and presence of these effects vary due to factors like flight time and direction? Read on as the next section dives into this very topic.

Flight Time and Direction: Effects on Jet Lag

Your body’s core temperature changes throughout the day in accordance with circadian rhythms. Thus, researchers often use body temperature as a means of estimating how far ahead or behind your internal circadian clock is after flying. It has been estimated that the circadian clock resets an average of 90 minutes later each day after a westward flight and 60 minutes earlier each day after an eastward flight (assuming only a few time zones have been traversed).4

Naturally, the more time zones you cross, the more out of rhythm your circadian clock becomes (and the longer it takes for it to adapt to the new light-dark cycles). This leads us to the next section which covers how to minimize jet lag and speed up the process by which your body adapts its circadian clock to a new time zone.

Strategies to Minimize Jet Lag

In cases where you travel many time zones (8+), it can take several days for your circadian clock to adapt. In such instances, you will need to do your best to regulate when you are exposed to bright light. If you plan to travel eastward, try and shift your sleep schedule back one to two hours several days prior to the trip. When traveling westward, you want to do the inverse.

Moreover, when traveling more than seven time zones eastward, you’ll want to avoid bright light for the first three hours after sunrise in the initial two days after arrival; starting on the third day, seek exposure to bright light in the morning. For westward travel during the first two days after arrival, avoid bright light for three hours before dusk; starting on the third day, seek exposure to bright light in the evening.

These strategies should significantly reduce jet lag symptoms and help your circadian clock adapt quickly. Along with these tips, we recommend using CortiSolve to keep your cortisol levels in rhythm and enhance your sleep.

Supplementing with CortiSolve

CortiSolve is a efficaciously-dosed cortisol support supplement containing phosphatidylserine. Taking CortiSolve at the right times will help keep your circadian clock in check. Since jet lag’s main ramification is interfering with sleep, it is best take one scoop of CortiSolve about 30 minutes prior to bed (regardless of which direction or how many time zones you travel).

If you workout while traveling, take one scoop of CortiSolve after training to help mitigate excessive cortisol production (which can also interfere with your ability to sleep and unwind). By using CortiSolve in conjunction with the aforementioned strategies that minimize jet lag, you will be able to avoid the nasty side effects of traveling and keep on track with your health and fitness goals (and any potential competitions).

Key Take-Home Points

  • Jet lag (desynchronosis) is a temporary sleep disorder that disrupts your body’s internal circadian clock.
  • Jet lag can throw off your endocrine system and sleep-wake patterns, leading to many deleterious effects.
  • The distance and direction you travel determines the magnitude of jet lag you experience.
  • In general, traveling westward makes your circadian clock fall behind (i.e. it resets later) while traveling eastward does the opposite.
  • When traveling a few time zones eastward, adjust your sleep schedule back by two hours no less than two days before your trip; do the opposite when traveling westward.
  • When traveling more than seven time zones eastward, avoid bright light in the immediate hours after waking for the first two days after arrival. For westward travel, avoid bright light in the evening hours for the first two days after arrival.
  • It is best to use CortiSolve prior to bed and after training when you travel (especially on long trips) as it helps regulate cortisol production and accelerate the process by which your body adapts to a new time zone.

References

  1. Waterhouse, J., Reilly, T., Atkinson, G., & Edwards, B. (2007). Jet lag: trends and coping strategies. The Lancet, 369(9567), 1117-1129.
  2. Sack, R. L. (2009). The pathophysiology of jet lag. Travel medicine and infectious disease, 7(2), 102-110.
  3. Sack, R. L. (2010). Jet lag. New England Journal of Medicine, 362(5), 440-447.
  4. Sack, R. L., Auckley, D., Auger, R. R., Carskadon, M. A., Wright Jr, K. P., Vitiello, M. V., & Zhdanova, I. V. (2007). Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: part I, basic principles, shift work and jet lag disorders. Sleep, 30(11), 1460-1483.