Why Traveling And Jet Lag Are Not As Bad For You As You Think

Traveling can be exhilarating. There are fresh experiences to be had, new foods to sample, and activities you've never done before to try out. Travel affects your health in surprising ways, from enhancing creativity, to reducing stress levels, to improving satisfaction and happiness, to increasing mental resilience, according to Forbes. But, how does it affect sleep and your body? New research reveals that travel and jet lag may not be as bad for our bodies as we may believe.

Research in the past has shown that travel fatigue and jet lag can affect sleep hygiene because they disrupt your circadian rhythms, that is, your body's sleep-wake pattern over the course of a 24-hour day (via Healthline). Crossing multiple time zones can play havoc on the body and cause stomach issues, fatigue, and disturbed sleep (per Mayo Clinic). Moreover, other factors like hours spent sitting while in transit, dehydration, sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, and light pollution all can leave us exhausted while traveling, according to mindbodygreen.

How traveling can actually benefit your body

While traveling is expected to have a negative effect on sleep hygiene, some types of travel could help balance sleep, according to new research. A 2022 study published in Nature Human Behavior examined quality of sleep during short, non-time-zone-crossing trips, and found that travelers who tend to undersleep at home (that is, getting less than 7.5 hours of sleep per night) sleep more on vacation, whereas those who typically oversleep in their own beds (sleeping more than 7.5 hours each night) catch less sleep on vacation (via mindbodygreen). 

Not only that, but according to research from Northwestern University, if you're traveling across multiple time zones, the disruption to your internal clock could potentially benefit your brain health (per The Washington Post). Researchers found that the stress associated with jet lag appears to slow the impacts of Huntington's Disease and improve brain function. It's important to note, this study was conducted on fruit flies because they have a similar wake and sleep cycle to human brains.