It’s the end of the school year, as well as the summer (or winter) holidays…depending on where you call home, so long flights and holidays are on the cards. There is nothing worse than flying half way across the globe only to find you are flat on your back for the fist few days of your trip…why? They call it “Jetlag”.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag, also called desynchronosis or flight fatigue, is a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms as a result of air travel across time zones. It is considered a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, which is a disruption of the internal body clock.
What are other symptoms of jet lag?
Besides fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms, including anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, indigestion, difficulty concentrating, sweating, coordination problems, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, malaise (a general feeling of being unwell), and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness.
Children and babies can also suffer the same jet lag symptoms as adults.
What increases the risk of getting jet lag?
The main cause of jet lag is travel across different time zones. However, there are certain risk factors that may result in symptoms being more severe or longer lasting.
- Travel across three or more time zones: Most people can adjust rapidly to a one or two time zone change. Three or more may cause more noticeable symptoms of jet lag.
- Flying east. Travel from west to east causes travelers to “lose” time, and this can be a more difficult adjustment.
- Age: Older adults may recover from jet lag more slowly.
- Frequent travel: Pilots, flight attendants, and frequent business travelers who are constantly in different time zones may have difficulty adjusting.
- Preexisting conditions: Preexisting sleep deprivation, stress, and poor sleep habits prior to travel can exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
- Flight conditions: The monotony of travel, immobility and cramped seating, airline food, altitude, and cabin pressure can impact jet lag symptoms.
- Alcohol use: Overconsumption of alcohol during long flights can also worsen the symptoms of jet lag.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO AVOID JETLAG?
There are several home remedies that can help with prevention of jet lag and easier recovery from the symptoms. The following are tips to help travelers to avoid or to minimize the effects of jet lag.
- RESET YOUR BODY CLOCK
Jet lag occurs when your body clock is quickly thrown into a new time zone, so help it with the transition by adjusting your sleeping patterns a few days before take-off.
You might not be able to match the times exactly, but even sleeping and waking an hour earlier or later can speed up the recovery time once you land.
- SKIP MEALS ON BOARD
According to research from Harvard Medical School in the US, your body clock temporarily resets when you forgo food, so avoiding in-flight meals en route to your destination (or for 16 hours, the experts suggest) can help you adjust to the local time faster. If you can’t go without food for that long, keep your meals light and sync them to the local eating times as best you can.
- UNPLUG IN THE AIR
We’d never suggest you shun the in-flight entertainment, but be aware that exposure to blue light can further disrupt your sleeping patterns. Take advantage of the dark cabin and doze so when you arrive you can cruise through until bedtime.
- SOAK UP THE RAYS
When sunlight hits your eyes, it triggers a reaction in your brain that stops the production of melatonin (the chemical that makes you sleepy), so if you feel drowsy or irritable on arrival, head outdoors. Enjoy an al fresco brekkie, go for a walk, and wear a hat instead of sunglasses as they cut out sunlight’s stimulating effects.
- SIP ON CHERRY JUICE
Scientists at Northumbria University in the UK discovered that when people drink tart cherry juice, their body’s level of sleep-inducing melatonin significantly increases. So if you’re struggling to catch a few winks after a long flight, down a glass of the red stuff to promote a more restful snooze. Having said this, most flights do not offer cherry juice as a beverage and taking your own drink is generally forbidden on flights these days. Cherry extract is a good alternative.
- HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
A study in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity found that exercise can help make you more alert during the day, so boost your concentration with a run around your new surrounds or do sprints on the hotel treadmill to tire yourself out.
- PUSH THROUGH
To realign the systems that help you sleep, go to bed when the clock says, not when your body says. If it’s 10am when you arrive at your destination, for example, avoid the urge to nap until at least 6pm as this will only exacerbate your jet lag. If there’s no way you’ll survive without a little shut-eye, save your naps for after lunch and limit them to an hour.Food is also important in establishing sleep rhythms, so eat during wakefulness and try as best as you can to live like the locals.
- WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHES
On a long trip, how you feel is more important than how you look. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Avoid items that pinch, restrict, or chafe. When selecting your trip outfit, keep in mind the climate in your destination time zone. Dress for your destination.
- BREAK UP YOUR TRIP
On long flights traveling across eight, 10, or even 12 time zones, break up your trip, if feasible, with a stay in a city about halfway to your destination. For example, if you are traveling from New York to Bombay, India, schedule a stopover of a few days in Dublin or Paris. (At noon in New York, it is 5 p.m. in Dublin, 6 p.m. in Paris, and 10:30 p.m. in Bombay.)
- OIL UP YOUR FEET
The strangest tip I’ve ever received for preventing jet lag is to rub a bit of sesame oil onto the soles of your feet and wear a pair of socks to help it absorb while you’re on the plane.
Surprisingly, it works!
Caffeine works for you & it works against you. Don’t drink it if you are trying to get some shut-eye, do drink it if you need a pick-me-up when you get to your destination.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR JETLAG?
The best way to treat jet lag is to take measures to prevent it. But you may still feel jet lagged when traveling across many time zones, even with some preventative measures. There are no specific medications for jet lag, only medications that may help you get to sleep more easily when you reach your destination, or that remedy some symptoms of jet lag.
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in body rhythms and jet lag. After the sun sets, the eyes perceive darkness and alert the hypothalamus to begin releasing melatonin, which promotes sleep. Conversely, when the eyes perceive sunlight, they tell the hypothalamus to withhold melatonin production. However, the hypothalamus cannot readjust its schedule instantly; it takes several days.
A dose of melatonin that is between 0.3 mg-5 mg may be taken on the first day you travel at the time you go to sleep at your destination, and for a few days, if needed. Melatonin seems to be most effective when crossing five or more time zones, or traveling east. Melatonin should only be taken by adults. Do not drink alcohol when taking melatonin. Consult a doctor if you plan on taking melatonin.
Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills may help you reset your body clock to the time at your destination. Try not to use them if possible, but if your doctor has prescribed sleep medication, it may be taken if needed for up to two or three nights. Try not to take it for longer, as these medications can be habit-forming.
Happy Travels ☺
Kim Patra is a qualified Midwife & Nurse Practioner who has been living and working in Bali for over 30 years. She now runs her own Private Practice & Mothers & Babies center at her Community Health Care office in Sanur.
Copyright © 2018 Kim Patra
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