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How to Avoid and Beat Jet lag

By: Liz Wu - Updated: 16 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Jet Lag Travel Fatigue Insomnia

Anyone who's ever ridden on a plane probably knows what jet lag is - the disruption of ones body clock and sleep patterns that comes from crossing time zones by air travel on long flights. But what can you do about jetlag?

As jet lag (also known as desynchronosis, dysrhythmia or dyschrony) is related to the disruption of the body's circadian rhythms by the change in light-dark patterns, the best way to avoid or reduce it is to acclimate yourself to the new environment as quickly as possible.

The symptoms of jet lag, though not generally severe, can be quite frustrating for a vacationer wanting to enjoy every minute of their holiday or for a businessperson who needs to be at peak performance when they arrive. Drowsiness, insomnia, headaches, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, dehydration, lowered immunity, and digestive problems can all really put a crimp in one's travel plans; the number of days one is likely to experience jet lag corresponds with the difference in the hours between the two time zones. Therefore, a person travelling between the UK and the US (to a location with a difference of seven hours) may require up to a week to recover.

However, if you plan carefully, you can time your exposure to the sun in order to reset your body clock to the new time zone, thus avoiding or decreasing the severity of jetlag. The following are factors to keep in mind:

  • Jetlag is caused by an abrupt change in time zones; therefore journeys north-south, though they may be long, are less likely to produce symptoms.

  • Generally the symptoms of jet lag are worse when flying east, which usually results in difficulty getting to sleep. If travelling east, beginning a few days before and at least a day after your flight, seek out light in the morning and avoid it in the evening. Also try waking up an hour earlier each day during the days preceding travel, and see if you can get to sleep earlier as well.

  • If you are flying west, seek out light in the evening and avoid it in the morning before and after the flight. Try to go to bed and wake up later in the days preceding the journey if possible. Go for a brisk walk after your arrival, though not if it means exposure to the morning sun.

  • During and following travel in either direction, avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially before bedtime. Also avoid heavy exercise right before going to sleep.

  • Do your best to minimize light and noise while sleeping - even wearing earplugs if necessary.

  • Prescription sleep aids may help, but avoid over-the-counter ones as they may further disrupt sleep patterns. Daytime drowsiness can be combated with caffeine as long as it is not in the hours before sleep.

  • Taking .5 mg of melatonin, a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland, may be effective in helping induce sleep. Pregnant or lactating women and children should not take melatonin; as it causes drowsiness it should also be avoided before driving or when operating machinery.

  • Try to rest the day after arrival - keep obligations to a minimum if possible.

  • Drink lots of water to combat dehydration.

  • People over the age of 50 are generally more prone to jetlag.

  • Keep in mind that some travel symptoms (dry eyes, headaches, irritated nose and sinuses, dizziness, swollen feet or limbs, bloating, earaches) are often a result not of jetlag, but the dry air, pressurization, and cramped quarters on the airplane.

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