Jet Lag – Its cause and tricks to beat it

Jet lag is a real pain in the sleeping pattern. You have saved up for the trip of a lifetime and flown to an exotic destination just to land as an irritable, insomniac with eyeballs hanging out on stalks. You may suffer poor sleep upon arrival, trouble falling asleep (if going east), waking really early (if going west), concentration difficulties and even changes in bowel routine. Jet lag is only caused by flights going East-West or West-East. North-South flights don’t cross any time zones and will not cause Jet lag. However extended North-South flights can cause travel fatigue. Travel fatigue is different to Jet lag in that it is just your body protesting being trapped inside a dehydrating tin can for many hours. The length that jet lag symptoms last varies between individuals. Some people bounce into their new time zone without breaking stride whereas others can suffer for many days and nights.

What causes Jet lag?

Your circadian rhythm dictates your sleep/wake cycle by regulating levels of ‘wake up’ and ‘get-to-sleep’ hormones. As you have suddenly landed in a new time zone your body clock is out of sync with your surrounds, your circadian rhythm is busily pumping out go to sleep messages as you eat brunch. Adjustment to your new zone is easier if you have travelled in a westerly direction than if you have travelled in an easterly direction. Usually you need to cross three time zones to suffer jet lag proper but some people can suffer symptoms after crossing only one or two time zones.

How can I fix it?

Preflight

One good trick to minimise jet lag is to train your sleep patterns a bit before going. For example, say you are traveling to Denmark (as I will be soon for Christmas! Woop). Denmark is ten hours earlier than my home so 10pm here is midday there. A few days before flying, stay up later than usual so that your body clock begins shifting a little. This can minimise the shock. Clearly you want to check your maths so you are not pre-shifting in the wrong direction!

During flight

As soon as you board your flight change all watches to destination time and sleep accordingly. From what I can tell cabin crew dim the lights according to the time zone you have left so sleeping can be a pain. However, I find that even if you cannot sleep having your mind on destination time helps enormously.

Upon arrival

Basically push through the pain barrier and don’t sleep until it is night time. Napping is the worst thing you can do when jet lagged. You will likely be walking around drooling and staring blankly at monuments but push through. Some people take short acting hypnotics to help getting to sleep, even though this is not strictly recommended everyone does it *wink*.

Light sends a strong signal to help adjust your circadian rhythm so get out in the sunlight during the day and close the blinds at night. Melatonin is regularly used to aid adjustment but there is much debate as to its effectiveness and the dosage needed, not to mention legality in some countries.

So there you have it, all of my best tricks to beat jet lag, wait, one more…COFFEE!

 

2 Responses to Jet Lag – Its cause and tricks to beat it

  • Walter says:

    I like to take 3mg of Melatonin before I go to bed at my destination. Do that for the entire trip and till a week after I get back. Sometimes I take it regularly at home as it may have a positive effect on my CF lungs and is a great antioxidant as well…not aware of any possible serious side effects, but not sure why we can’t buy it in Oz!! Whaddayareckon Ben??? Ref. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20025642

    • Ben says:

      I also Don’t know of any serious side effects, the efficacy of it for Jet lag though is still hotly debated…won’t do any harm for it though mate!

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