Travelling across time zones is exciting … and exhausting.
Jet lag is the term used to describe the symptoms associated with a lack of sleep that is caused by travelling across more than 3 time zones.
Travelling across these time zones causes a disconnect between your body’s normal sleep/wake cycle and the time at your destination. In other words, your body thinks that it should be awake when its nighttime and thinks it should be asleep during the daytime.
Jet lag symptoms include decreased attention, concentration, memory and the ability to reason because you feel so tired. You may also have a headache, feel weak or be easily irritated.
These symptoms can be very frustrating especially if your trip is short or you need to be alert for an important business meeting.
Thankfully, there are a few different things that can be done to decrease your symptoms and help your body adjust faster.
First, you can adjust your sleep habits. Avoid sleeping during the daytime at your destination as this will actually increase the amount of time it takes for your body to adjust to the new time zone.
Second, make sure you get out in the sun. Exposure to light at specific times as been shown to help the body adjust faster to different time zones. If you are flying east, get some light exposure early in the morning at your destination. If you are flying west, get some light exposure in the evening. Natural light is the best, but if that is not possible, light from a light box or even just bright room light works too.
Finally, there are some medications that can help reduce jet lag symptoms.
Melatonin is a natural health product that can be purchased without a prescription. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the body when it is dark. Its job is to regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Evidence has shown that taking melatonin in the evening when you are at your destination can improve travelers’ alertness during the day and decrease daytime sleepiness and fatigue. However, melatonin does not help you fall asleep faster. Melatonin should be taken for the first few days at your destination while your body is adjusting to the new time zone.
Sleeping pills have a hypnotic effect; they cause you to fall asleep. There are a variety of different sleeping pills that could be prescribed. Sleeping pills are not recommended for long term use, but could be used for the first few days in a different time zone to help you fall asleep at your new bedtime. The concern with sleeping pills is that they can cause “hangover” sedation the following morning. Also, sleeping pills are not usually recommended to be taken during a plane flight. This is because you have an increased risk of getting a blood clot when you are not moving. The risk of getting a blood clot is already high when you are on a flight because most people spend the majority of the time sitting and only occasionally get up and move around. When you take a sleeping pill, even the small amount of movement associated with getting up to go to the washroom or doing some stretches is not possible and your risk of blood clots increases even more.
Anyone who is considering using medications to help reduce their jet lag symptoms should speak with a healthcare professional before taking the medication to ensure it is the best option for them.
With these recommendations, hopefully battling the exhaustion associated with travel takes a little less time out of your days away.