Jetlag and Social Jetlag - The Apeiron Life Perspective

Jetlag and Social Jetlag are disruptions to the circadian rhythm, altering sleep quality and quantity. They can lead to fatigue, brain fog, difficulty sleeping, GI distress, and other frustrating symptoms.

Both scenarios involve your internal clock adjusting to new sleep/wake-up times- Jetlag is created by flying across multiple time zones, and Social Jetlag typically consists in going to bed later for social reasons. Social Jetlag is the phenomenon of being in the same space but changing your sleep patterns. For example, this can occur when you stay up late socializing on weekends. It can be the equivalent of flying to another country in terms of sleep deprivation. In both scenarios, your circadian rhythm shifts to accommodate new patterns.

Several scenarios can dampen our circadian rhythms from frequent travel or sporadic socializing to artificial light. If you often travel or regularly find yourself sleepy in your day-to-day life, you may need to reset your internal clock. One of the ways you can do this is by correcting your internal rhythms through a regime of natural light and darkness. Similar to going on a forest adventure and intentionally disconnecting from unnatural time signals such as electronics, light pollution, and a lack of natural light.

Camping and activities with exposure to natural sunlight can reset your circadian rhythm by getting you back to the correct time frame. However, we don't all have time for these adventures, so to dampen the effects of Jetlag, there are a few steps you can take in advance, during, and on the way back from your trip.

What Can You Do In Advance?

First of all, pay down the sleep debt. Spend more time in bed as consistently as possible the week before your departure. The aim is to leave for the trip as well-rested as possible. Traveling with high sleep debt, or when you are exhausted, decreases your ability to adjust to Jetlag and puts undue stress on your immune system. Also, pay attention to where you have more control over your sleep environment, which is in your home, then your hotel, and then the flight.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can be a valuable tool to monitor how your body adapts to the burden of travel. If you are leaving for your trip with a high level of fatigue, consuming excess alcohol, or have caught an airborne illness, expect your HRV to continue to trend downwards until you can catch up on sleep.

  • Look at your nighttime HRV (on the Oura app) for the week or two prior to your departure. As you adjust to your new timezone, it is normal for your HRV to dip.

A gradual drop in your HRV through your trip can show stressors such as sluggish adaptation to local time or ongoing illness are hindering recovery. If your HRV has returned to normal levels or is rising, this can be a marker that you are adjusting to local time.

Shift your clock - You can prepare for your trip in advance by gradually shifting from your home time zone to your destination time zone hour by hour. Prior to your journey, you can accomplish a 1-hour shift per day, with a recommended 3-hour maximum shift. This is only valuable if it is feasible to comply and sleep enough. Otherwise, if this strategy reduces your total sleep time and increases total sleep debt before departure, this can make Jetlag worse!

  • When traveling East - Advancing your clock requires going to bed earlier and waking up earlier.

  • When traveling West - Delaying your clock requires going to bed later and waking up later.

When Flying West

Travelling West is generally easier than traveling East. Humans are better at keeping themselves awake and going to sleep later. For example, from NY to CA is easier because we are biased towards pushing ourselves to stay up than shutting off. Remember that modifying meal times alongside sleep/wake schedules is important to nudge your internal clock before traveling.

When Flying East

Traveling East can be more problematic as it requires you to sleep and wake up earlier than usual. For travel from the US to Europe, your flight pattern is essential. Ideally, you want to fly when you can sleep. For example:

  • When flying from NY to Paris, it’s better to take a 9:30 pm flight arriving at 11 am in Paris than a 4:30 pm flight arriving in Paris at 6 am. Eating dinner early and boarding the flight at 9:30 pm increases your chances of getting to sleep for a few hours on the flight.

  • You then have a “short” first day in Paris with the 11 am arrival. The 4:30 pm departure option is more challenging to manage as you will likely not be tired during the flight and then arrive at 6 am local time with a “long” day ahead of you.

Consider arriving mid-day, so your work demands coincide with your at-home work schedule. Try scheduling meetings and work a bit later in the day. Prioritizing sleep for your first few nights is essential.

When Flying North ↔ South

Flight fatigue is different from Jetlag. If you're traveling North to South (e.g., from NY to Buenos Aires), you may not experience Jetlag, but you'll still experience a type of exhaustion. This can be due to the stress of flying, discomfort, dehydration, and other factors. The difference is that the fatigue will generally go away after a good night's rest and hydration.

How to Avoid Jetlag

Below are some tips on how to avoid or at least lessen the symptoms of Jetlag. We have focused the preparation via specific types of flights.

When You're On The Plane

  • Set your clock for your destination time as soon as you get on the flight.

  • Flying and traveling alone is a physiological stressor. Consider recovery support tools:

  • Compression socks - Athletes and travelers alike may benefit from the circulation support.

  • A portable recovery device → Peroneal nerve stimulator Firefly. It feels like a low-grade pulsing and helps with fluid circulation.

  • Filter blue light from natural light or electronic devices 2 hours before you intend to fall asleep. You may consider using blue light blocking glasses to decrease exposure.

  • If possible, avoid airplane food as there is ~30% more salt in airplane food.

  • Keep hydrated before, during, and after! Every hour have at least one glass of water, and you should be urinating frequently while awake on the flight.

  • Try to move around a minimum of once an hour when awake. Stretch, heel raises, neck stretches, and shoulder rotations.

When on an Overnight Flight

  • Hydrate, and go to the bathroom.

  • Change into comfy clothes and compression socks.

  • Set up a sleep/rest positive space. Sleep mask, noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, and a good pillow.

  • Try to move around a minimum of once an hour when awake. Stretch, heel raises, neck stretches, and shoulder rotations.

When you're Landing at Night

  • Activate 'Low Energy mode' by reading or listening to a podcast.

  • Try not to sleep for the second half of your flight.

  • On the plane, set up a wakeful environment:

  • Keep your space cool.

  • Work on the plane or watch movies to stay awake.

  • Get up to stretch and take water breaks.

  • Upon arrival, try to stay up until your target bedtime without caffeine use.

  • Do a complete nighttime ritual to support sleep.

  • Then get in bed and rest without screens, even if not sleepy. Sleep will eventually come. Resting even without sleep aids in Jetlag recovery.

  • Upon waking the following morning get direct sunlight without sunglasses and low-intensity exercise. (e.g. a 20-30 minute morning walk)

When you're Landing in the Morning

  • If you feel like you can power through the day, go for it. If you feel exhausted and like you will need a nap anyway, it’s best to nap earlier in the day (i.e. when you first land go to the hotel). Naps should be no more than 1-2 hours and ideally before 2 pm local time.

  • Get direct sunlight by going for a walk or sitting in the sun.

  • Stick to zone 2 workouts, low-intensity mobility or body resistance work such as yoga or pilates. Avoid high intensity or complex movements.

  • Use some caffeine to support you without being over-caffeinated.

  • Get on the local food schedule. You can skip the first meal but eating the next meal on the new country's meal schedule is essential.

  • Aim to go to bed within 1-2 hours of your target bedtime.

On a Daytime European Flight

These flights are less common and require a different strategy. Go to bed and wake up at your typical time to get to the airport.

  • For example, daytime flights to London typically leave New York around 8 am (ET). Keep in mind that the clock will advance 12 hours upon landing-approximately 8 pm local time, but the flight will only take 7 hours. You will want to stay awake for the duration of the flight in order to increase your chances of falling asleep at your desired bedtime in London. If your sleep is suboptimal on night one in London, remind yourself that you had a compressed day and did not accrue your typical 16 hours of wakefulness. You can tolerate less sleep if you depart reasonably well-rested.

On the plane, set up a wakeful environment:

  • Keep your space cool.

  • Work, read or watch movies to stay awake.

  • Get up to stretch and take water breaks.

Upon arrival, try to stay up until an appropriate time. Have a healthy dinner and then transition right away by falling asleep or resting in bed. It's challenging to go to bed "early" so do your best to allow for rest and recovery. Do a complete nighttime ritual to support sleep.

Upon waking the following morning get direct sunlight and exercise as early as possible. You may feel sluggish for a few hours, but movement, sun and caffeine (if you prefer) will help send your brain the message that it’s time to start the day.

For Your Return Flight

Just as you planned for your departure, your return to your home zone also deserves thought.

  • If you are flying west towards home, stay awake on the flight to reach your destination, ready for bed.

  • If you are flying east towards home, sleep on the flight as best you can.

  • For example, from Tokyo to San Francisco, flights typically depart at 5 pm local time and arrive at 9 am local time. As the flight duration is approximately 9 hours, your internal clock is either moving ahead 16 hours or moving back 8 hours.

You can use napping and melatonin to help shift your internal clock in advance of flying back home.

  • Reprogramming your Internal Clock. Lie down in a dark, quiet room in your local time zone when approaching your typical bedtime at home. Set an alarm for 20-30 minutes. If you fall asleep, great. If not, that’s fine too. You are sending a message to your internal clock that you will have a new time to transition to sleep. You can do this for several days in advance of your departure for home.

  • When you are traveling, you can use your Oura data to “measure” your adaptation to local time. Look back to the weeks before travel and to determine the range of your nighttime HRV. The first night or two are likely to show some HRV suppression. Our internal clock can shift by about one hour a day. Use Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as a marker to assess your sleep recovery.

  • Shifting with Melatonin. Add in 2-5 mg of melatonin with your nap if desired.

  • Modifying Meal Times. Food has circadian timing to it. Try to have dinner at a regular time and avoid eating on the plane.

If you would like a tailored plan for your upcoming travel, reach out to your Client Advocate.

What is Social Jetlag?

Socializing into the late hours of the night has a similar effect to Jetlag. Staying up later for social reasons essentially forces your circadian rhythm to adjust across multiple time zones. This occurrence is known as “Social Jetlag.” It transpires when someone who typically goes to bed around 10 pm might not get to bed until 1 am, whether due to a business dinner or a night out with friends. Although it is important to honor professional and personal socializing needs, attention should be paid to the unintended effect of Social Jetlag.

Why is this important?

  • Impairs sleep. By changing our bedtime, we can create shifts in our circadian timing throughout the week.

  • Increases cardiovascular risk. After alcohol consumption, we observe an increase in heart rate during sleep due to less total sleep or earlier than intended awakenings.

  • Impairs metabolism.

  • Hinders Goals. Is it in line with your other values and goals in life?

  • Social Jetlag can negatively affect your desire to exercise, make smart food choices, and overall daytime functioning.

  • Are you forgoing opportunities because you stayed up too late?

When you go to bed so much later than your regular hours, you either:

  • Wake up at your usual time and impair your total sleep duration.

  • Or you sleep in on those mornings and cause a significant shift in your circadian rhythm.

How to counteract the effects?

First, ask yourself a few questions to evaluate the necessity of disrupting your bedtime.

  • Is this a professional commitment that can be changed?

  • Is this an important social event that shouldn't be missed?

  • Or is this something that you could bypass or bow out of early?

Even for significant social events, consider the ongoing value of staying past your bedtime versus the potential cost to your circadian rhythm, sleep hygiene, cardiovascular and cognitive health.

Of course, the occasional later bedtime will have a negligible impact, and human connection is vital. However, going to bed late on the weekends and expecting to function properly goes against your primary brain and body needs.

The Key Metric

Your Sunday night bedtime and Monday morning wake-up time matter. The Sunday sleep is essential to set the tone for the week and support a robust circadian rhythm. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep at your usual time on Sunday evenings, you’ll know you’re dealing with social jetlag heading into the week and can course-correct for future weeks.

While this information can be a great starting place for many, your sleep and sleep plans can be highly personalized. If you have any questions regarding your sleep, please reach out to your Client Advocate. We strive to support all pillars of your health, and sleep is an essential one.