Sleep Care

Jet Lag: Causes and Remedies

Jet lag. It’s something every traveler dreads. You know those awful feelings of confusion, fatigue, and irritability that come from traveling a long distance. It can wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans, stealing your time and energy.

For years, people thought jet lag was caused simply by flying. Now, experts know that jet lag is more than just feeling tired because you are in a different time zone or because you have been on a plane. Jet lag is an actual disruption of your body’s intrinsic sleep cycle and/or circadian rhythm.

Basically, your body works on a 24-hour cycle that is influenced by sunlight. This sleep cycle is known as your circadian rhythm and helps determine when you sleep and when you wake. As a result, jet lag occurs when your body’s internal clock doesn’t match up with the regional time zone.

The most common symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, tiredness and disorientation. You also may experience loss of appetite, insomnia, mild depression, headaches and nausea. Jet lag can also be worsened by the anxiety and stress that people feel when flying.

Typically, jet lag lasts a few days because your body’s circadian rhythm is slow to adjust and stays on its original biological schedule for several days. However, if you find your jet lag symptoms are lasting longer, you should consult a physician.

Studies have shown that people who frequently change their sleep patterns are not only at risk for fatigue and insomnia but they have been shown to have higher rates of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, as well as a decreased capacity for learning and memory functions. What’s more troubling is even after returning to a normal sleep schedule the negative impacts on brain function may not improve.

Here are some suggestions for ways to minimize the side effects of jet lag:

  • Choose to arrive in the early evening and stay awake until 10 p.m. local time
  • Prepare for the time change by getting up and going to bed earlier several days before your trip east (and later if you are traveling west)
  • Drink plenty of water during the flight
  • Change your watch to your destination’s time zone as soon as you get on the plane
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine three to four hours before bed
  • Eat lightly and avoid heavy meals when you arrive
  • Pack earplugs and blindfolds to reduce noise and light while sleeping
  • Get outside into the sunlight whenever possible (daylight helps regulate your biological clock)
  • Talk with your doctor before using sleep aids or melatonin supplements. (Melatonin is a hormone that affects your body’s circadian rhythms. Although melatonin is found in health food stores, it is not regulated and should be used only with a physician’s supervision.)

Overall, the best method to combat jet lag is to plan ahead. You never know how your body will react. Keep in mind, the effects of jet lag can vary drastically from person to person. While some people may not be affected, others can suffer severe debilitating jet lag. Being prepared will make your transition quicker and easier, and allow you to make the most of your travels.


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