Let’s say you wanted to fly from Tokyo to Las Vegas to catch a sporting event, and then turn around and fly back across the Pacific to Australia. No one would recommend this punishing schedule from a rest point of view. But if you’re Taylor Swift and your boyfriend is playing in the Super Bowl, you’re probably ready to wreak some havoc on your sleep schedule.
Swift’s travel schedule for football’s biggest game has caused quite a stir.
The Embassy of Japan in the United States has issued a playful STATEMENT with assurances that Swift can “comfortably arrive” in Vegas in time to see Travis Kelce play on Feb. 11 after performing her Feb. 10 concert in Tokyo, which is 17 hours ahead of Las Vegas. And CBS Sports has noted that Swift’s biggest problem — perhaps “the biggest first-world problem that ever existed” — may be finding a parking spot for her private jet.
What about jet lag? There’s the huge time difference between Tokyo and Vegas, and if Swift needs to return to Melbourne, Australia, as soon as possible to prepare for the Australian leg of her tour, should she try to acclimate to Vegas?
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Taylor Swift probably shouldn’t be trying to adjust to Vegas time during her anticipated trip to the Super Bowl.
In a word, no.
“There’s no way anyone could adapt that quickly,” said Dr. David Schulman, an Emory University School of Medicine professor who treats sleep disorders at the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta.
Sleep specialist Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg agreed, saying “she’d probably be better off trying to stay in another time zone.”
Melbourne is only two hours ahead of Tokyo, an easier adjustment than throwing time in Las Vegas.
But while there isn’t much you can do in terms of stretching your body clock on very quick trips across multiple time zones, there are ways to ease the body’s adjustment when the trip is long enough to adjust.
Here’s how jet lag works and what the average traveler can do to lessen its effects.
Jet lag is what happens when you travel to another time zone “at a faster rate than the body is able to adjust to,” said Dr. Richard Dawood, a travel medicine specialist at the Fleet Street Clinic in London.
Crossing time zones quickly – usually by plane – causes a “lack of synchronization between your body and the local clock – whether it’s night or day, whether you’re hungry or not, whether it’s the wrong time of day to go to the bathroom — all those things follow a daily pattern,” Dawood said.
The more time zones crossed, the more distressing the symptoms are, Schulman said, and jet lag tends to be worse if you’re traveling east.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine sets the threshold for experiencing jet lag at crossing “at least two time zones.”
Schulman said flying three time zones west usually doesn’t result in many disruptions.
“But when you go farther west than three time zones, or farther east than two time zones, you should expect some jet lag,” Schulman said.
He explained that the reason westward travel tends to be easier is because the body’s circadian rhythms actually span a little more than 24 hours. Going west makes the day longer because it’s earlier at your destination, and “our body clock works better by going a little longer than a little shorter, because our body’s tendency is to go a little longer.”
In short, you’ll likely have trouble staying awake when you want to be awake on your new schedule, and you may be awake when you should be asleep.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, jet lag can include:
• Fatigue or disorientation
• Problems falling asleep
• A decline in normal levels of daytime function
• Mild illness
• Stomach problems
• Menstrual symptoms in women
What should be done before and during travel to mitigate jet lag?
There are behavioral adjustments and remedies that can help a traveler deal with jet lag.
And there are things you can do before and during travel to lessen its impact. They include:
Adjust your body’s pace gradually before your ride
“Perfectly ideal, what you do is a few days before you go, you try to either advance or delay your schedule based on your new schedule of where you’re going to be,” said Abbasi-Feinberg, who is part of Millennium. Physicians Group in Fort Myers, Florida. For example, shifting your bedtime and wake-up time by one hour each day for a few days before the trip.
It can be helpful “even if you can only do it for an hour or two to try to get yourself on track at the time of your destination,” said Dawood, who added that such a change is “not much practical”.
Schulman directs his patients to a tool called the Jet Lag Rooster that allows travelers to enter their travel details to get a plan for how to adjust before and during the trip. The plan also includes two remedies discussed below that can help speed up the body’s adjustment: melatonin and bright light.
But first, consider these measures:
Start getting good rest and staying hydrated
“Start getting good rest, make sure you’re very, very hydrated when you’re flying because flying can be very dehydrating and that can cause jitters and headaches,” Abbasi-Feinberg said.
Cut back on alcohol and caffeine during the flight and eat lightly, she advised.
“Kind of keeping a light eating schedule, keeping light meals, nothing too heavy, in the 12 to 24 hours before you travel and during your trip can also help you adjust a little faster, she said.
Choosing flights that are less disruptive to sleep
Dawood points out that the fatigue we feel right after flying on red-eye flights and other sleep-disrupting itineraries isn’t actually jet lag. But choosing flights that are less disruptive to getting a good amount of sleep helps prevent a sleep deficit that can make jet lag worse.
Two main ways to speed up the body’s adaptation to a new time zone
As mentioned, the two main ways to help your body adjust more quickly to a new time zone are melatonin and light exposure.
While Abbasi-Feinberg and Schulman both said melatonin isn’t particularly good as a sleep medicine, it does work as a “regulator for your circadian rhythms,” Abbasi-Feinberg said. The supplement can “trick the body into thinking the brain is sending the signal,” Schulman said. Melatonin is a natural hormone that signals the body that it is time to sleep. So taking a melatonin supplement can help speed up the body’s adjustment to a new schedule.
Light is also a cue, so strategic exposure to bright, artificial light or natural sunlight can also help with regulation. Sleepopolis’ Jet Lag Rooster site or an app like Timeshifter can help travelers target the right times for light, as well as times when they might want to wear dark glasses or close the curtains to avoid sending the wrong signal .
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also mentions the use of sleeping pills as a way to induce sleep, stressing that “they are not necessary and should only be used for a short time.” Dawood also mentioned medications that can be used in consultation with a doctor.
Giving yourself time to adjust may be the best way to ensure optimal performance if your trip involves something you consider mission critical.
“Normally, I would tell people, ‘look, for every two to three hours you’re moving, allow at least one day of recovery,’ so if you’re really moving 12 hours, you really want to have four days to try to fit in,” Schulman said.
Don’t overdo it on the first day if you can help it.
“Realize that it may take you a little longer to adjust than you think,” Abbasi-Feinberg said. “Give yourself time to do this.”