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Traveling Across Time Zones With Type 2 Diabetes

Last updated: August 2022

Traveling across 2 or more time zones usually means jet lag. But traveling across time zones with type 2 diabetes definitely means adjusting your care routine.

The elasticity of time

Air travel makes it easy to go a long distance in a single day. But it can take its toll, leaving you feeling tired, headachy, and foggy-headed. Jet lag is caused by your body's rhythms getting out of sync with your surroundings. Sitting still for hours and the dehydrating effects of being on a plane also add to that "off" feeling. It all adds to more stress, which can affect your glucose levels.1,2

Travel west and gain time

Take a 6-hour flight west from the East Coast, and you'll arrive on the West Coast 3 hours earlier than your body expects it to be. You'll need to stay up longer to sync up with your regular bedtime, even if you feel ready to sleep.

Travel east and lose time

Take that same 6-hour flight in the opposite direction, and you'll arrive 3 hours later than your body expects. Instead of staying up longer, you're faced with going to bed "early" to get synced up.

How to counteract jet lag symptoms

There are several things you can do to counter the disorienting feelings that come with jet lag:1

  • Drink hydrating beverages
  • Move your body
  • If you arrive during daylight, get some sun
  • If you arrive during the evening, focus on getting a good night's sleep
  • Switch your activities and routines to your new time zone as soon as possible

The rigidity of diabetes care routines

Many of our daily diabetes care routines are driven by the clock. We check our glucose levels and take medication when we wake up, before meals, and at bedtime. Some medicines work best when spaced out evenly throughout the day. Other drugs need to be taken before eating a meal. However, keeping everything on schedule is difficult when time shifts and meals are replaced with snacks or skipped altogether.

Plan your adjustments ahead of travel

The best thing you can do is look at your travel schedule and consider the changes you'll make to sync your routine up with your new time zone. This way, you're not trying to figure it out along the way.

You can pack a meal or snack ahead of time and not rely on airline food or what's available at the airport. You can separate the doses of medication you need to take while traveling and put them somewhere easy to get to. And most importantly, you can decide when to switch to your new time zone.1

If you're unsure how to adjust your regular diabetes care routine for travel, check with your healthcare team. They'll be able to answer your questions and explain any cautions related to your medications.

Find a flight to fit your diabetes routine

Occasionally you can find a flight schedule that syncs nicely with your regular diabetes care routine. For example, I regularly traveled between Honolulu and the West Coast. I found a regularly scheduled red-eye flight that left around 9 p.m., after dinnertime, and close enough to bedtime that I stuck to my regular evening care routine. The flight arrived early, around 5 a.m., about an hour earlier than I usually would wake up. So the adjustments to my morning care routine were minimal. Of course, I had to sleep as best I could during the flight.

Be prepared for clock confusion on your medical devices

These days, most glucometers are connected to the internet. Because of this, their internal clocks will automatically adjust to local time when you take them out of airplane mode. This can be confusing when looking back at the log. I usually add a note in the app saying where I am at when I do my first check in a new time zone. It can be as simple as "in SF," which makes it clear when I made the switch.

The best laid plans can still go wrong

I have to admit coming back to Honolulu from Narita had me and my diabetes care routine shaken up. After a 9-hour layover followed by an 8-hour flight, I arrived on the same day as I left, but the landing was hours before the take-off from Japan.

Thank you, International Date Line! Once back on the ground, I checked my glucose levels. At that point, the only change to my routine that made sense at the time was to take a nap.

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