It’s July and it’s time to fly! With air travel at its peak this time of year, we at Somnology wanted to share the importance of being sleep health-conscious around the time of a trip. Whether you are departing for a vacation or returning home, you want to feel 100%. Since flying and changing time zones both impact your wellness, practicing good sleep hygiene is critical for restful, happy travel.
If you’ve flown overseas or traveled across time zones quickly, chances are you’ve experienced jet lag and know it can be disruptive to your plans. Jet lag happens when you travel quickly from one time zone to another, and your internal clock, known as circadian rhythm, cannot adjust to the time change as fast as you travel. You may feel the need to go to bed several hours earlier or later than normal, depending on the direction of travel. Also, you may have other symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, changes in mood/vigilance, or nausea.
Thankfully, jet lag usually goes away on its own after your body finishes adjusting to the new time zone. But what about that adjustment period? Jet lag can be a huge drag at the start of your vacation or business trip, and it’s especially hard on your body when you’re traveling eastward. If you’re interested in how to avoid jet lag, here are a few things you can do to catch the zzz’s you need:
- In the days approaching your flight, go to bed and wake up earlier for eastbound travel or later for westbound travel
- Change your watch/phone clock to your destination time zone on the plane
- Stay hydrated throughout your flight
- Get some sunlight (which regulates circadian rhythm) upon arrival
- Try to stay awake until the local bedtime your first day at your destination
- No heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, or intense exercise close to bedtime
- Block out light and noise while sleeping with a sleep mask and earplugs
- If needed, try an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid (e.g. melatonin)
People are usually focused on themselves and their fellow travelers when it comes to dealing with jet lag and sleep deprivation on trips. Not everyone considers pilots and other aircrew members. They experience frequent time zone changes and, consequently, more jet lag. So, what is being done among commercial airlines about the risk of jet lag or sleep deprivation affecting their pilots’ ability to fly safely? The answer is something, but not everything.
The Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council released a book about pilot fatigue, which notes that “judging whether a pilot is fit for duty is an individual pilot decision that should take into account the amount of sleep received prior to duty” (97). There are no industry standards on fitness for duty, so pilots must rely on their own judgment. While pilots’ training is extensive for their responsibilities, sometimes working longer schedules causes sleep deprivation which leads to poor decision-making. A 2003 study revealed that aviation accidents occur with a greater probability when involving pilots with longer duty periods. As long as this trend remains, it warrants review by industry legislators.
The good news is that despite this particular lack of regulation, you have no need to fear boarding that next flight. Air travel is still statistically way to get around, and of course, it’s also the fastest. With this information and your wellness in mind, we hope you have the safest, healthiest travel season yet! Happy trails!