The world is divided into different time zones and when you fly to a new time zone, your body may experience a range of symptoms called jet lag. This happens because your body is naturally programmed to do a number of things throughout a 24-hour period such as eating and sleeping, and these circadian rhythms as they are known, become disrupted. Body temperature, heartbeat, blood pressure and physiological patterns are affected and it takes a while for your body to adjust to a new light-dark schedule.
A number of factors play a role in the severity of the symptoms experienced.
- Time zones crossed.
The more zones you cross, the more likely you are to feel the symptoms of jet lag.
- The direction and timing of flights.
When you fly east you ‘lose’ time which may be harder than flying west when you ‘gain’ time.
- Flying frequently.
- Being older.
Jet lag has a more pronounced effect on older people and recovery is prolonged.
Symptoms vary from person to person and may include:
- Disturbed sleep
You feel wide awake at night and want to sleep during the day.
Your ability to perform mental and physical tasks decreases.
- Reduced alertness
You may feel disorientation, confusion, lightheadedness and difficulty concentrating.
- Digestive system issues
A lack of appetite, nausea, constipation, indigestion or diarrhoea are common.
- Anxiety and irritability
- Muscle soreness
How long does jet lag last?
It has been estimated that you need one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to normal. So a five-hour time difference means that you’ll need five days to recover. Sleep disturbances can persist for as long as a week if the change in time zones is greater than eight hours.
Strategies to minimize the effects
You can’t prevent jet lag but you can minimize its effects.
Before you travel:
- Plan your flights so you arrive in daylight. You will feel more like staying awake and adapting to a new schedule.
- Change your sleep routine a few days before you travel. Go to bed an hour earlier if you’re flying east east and an hour later if you’re flying west. This approach is helpful for travel that lasts for more than a week rather than short-term trips.
- Change the time on your clocks and computer a day or two before your flight to begin adjusting mentally.
- Try not to be sleep deprived before flying – if you’re already tired, jet lag will make you feel worse.
- Try to cut back your caffeine consumption a few days before your flight.
During the flight:
- The dry air in an aircraft causes dehydration. Drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids prevents this. Water is better than tea, coffee and fruit juices.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can add to tiredness and cause dehydration.
- Avoid caffeine. Remember that caffeine-heavy drinks include coffee, cola and energy drinks.
- Eat light meals that are easy to digest.
- Keep as active as possible.
If you remain seated for long hours in one uncomfortable position, jet lag symptoms are often worse. If you keep stretching your arms and legs, you can also help to reduce your risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis (a potentially serious condition).
- Try to adjust your brain to the timeframe of your destination. Sleep if it’s night time there. Equip yourself with a travel set that includes a travel pillow and blanket as well as an eye mask, ear plugs and foldable slippers to help you sleep on the plane. Travel Pillow and Blanket Set – Memory Foam Neck Pillow with Washable Velour Cover & Blanket, Contoured Eye Mask, Foam Ear Plugs, Foldable Slippers.
When you arrive:
- Try to get into a new routine as soon as possible. Eat and sleep at the right times for your new time zone.
- You may be tired after your long flight but do not nap as soon as you arrive. Try to stay awake and active until it’s the right time to go to bed to help your body adjust more quickly.
- Spend time outdoors in natural light as this will also help your body to adjust. Sunlight affects your internal circadian clock and natural light exposure is ideal for helping it to adjust to a new daylight schedule.
Studies have been conducted on the potential of a wide array of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) products to manage jet lag. Melatonin, and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics are just some of these.
Taking melatonin for jet lag is controversial. Studies conducted on jet lag remedies containing melatonin show that it does appear to help some people but not all. Melatonin is a substance (a hormone and neurotransmitter) naturally produced by the body when it gets dark. It helps to inform your brain that it’s time for your body to sleep. At dawn your body stops producing melatonin, helping you to wake up.
Research shows that if you miscalculate when taking melatonin, it can make your jet lag worse. Some travelers do find taking melatonin beneficial, particularly when crossing five or more time zones. They take it on the day of travel at the projected nighttime hour in the new time zone and at the same time on subsequent days. Some even begin taking it one to three days before they travel to better acclimate to the new time zone.
Some people take sleeping tablets to help relieve insomnia when flying. Taking a sleeping tablet on a flight can be unwise as you will experience little natural body movement and your prolonged immobility can lead to fatal blood clots. Sleeping tablets often have side effects too such as headaches and they are habit-forming if misused.
Buying medicine online
Jet lag remedies are available online. However, you must be careful when buying medicine online. You risk getting products that may be substandard and unsafe, especially those that usually need a prescription. If you’re considering buying a prescription-only medicine online, rather consult your doctor. Various factors such as your physical condition, your age and your flight schedule need to be considered by your doctor when prescribing medication for you.
Of course, not all of the products sold online are unsafe. A natural product, such as Lewis N. Clark No-Jet-Lag Homeopathic Flight Fatigue Remedy is recommended by many frequent flyers. Its active ingredients are Arnica Montana (Leopard’s Bane), Bellis Perennis (Daisy), Wild Chamomile, Ipecacuanha and Lycopodium (Clubmoss).
Light therapy is a natural way to maintain a routine sleep cycle. It can also help you change the times you sleep and wake. Light exposure regulates your body clock and being exposed to specific wavelengths of light for a prescribed amount of time at a specific time of day helps you to change when you feel tired. Scientists have been researching light therapy for some time as a way to prevent jet lag without medication or adjusting your sleep schedule.
ReTimer Light Therapy Glasses weigh much the same as a pair of sunglasses. They use blue and green wavelengths between 450 and 550 nano-meters, emitting 500 lux at the eye, similar to a 10,000-lux light box. These glasses are produced by a University-owned company and there are 4 published test trials that back up their effectiveness.
Positive reviews on Amazon for this product:
Fantastic product for jet lag – review by an Amazon customer on July 25, 2016.
“Fantastic product. Used as per the instructions and jet lag calculator for trips to the US the last two years. I usually struggle with jet lag but this made a huge difference in adjusting to the time zone. Would definitely recommend!”
Great for jet lag – review on Amazon by Kathryn White on June 2, 2016
“I use my ReTimers every time I travel to manage jet lag. I used to find that it took me up to 2 weeks to get back to normal after returning from overseas and I was exhausted, even to the point of nearly falling asleep driving on way home from work. However when I use Retimers it now only takes me about one day to get back into our time zone. Much better than using any drugs. I have lent them to friends who have trouble falling asleep and they love them too.”
Jet lag can leave you feeling off kilter, cranky and lethargic for days. If you have business to do or simply want to make the most of your hard-earned holiday, you’ll want to feel your best as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to reduce the effects of jet lag.