What is Jet Lag?
Jet lag happens whenever a person must travel across several time zones to their destination, whether it be a vacation, for a job, or moving to a new locale to live. Jet lag is considered to be one of the most common sleep disorders there is, affecting thousands of traveling people per day. Jet lag is not just annoying. If you are responsible for driving, operating heavy machinery or simply giving a talk or lecture at your new destination, jet lag can be significantly debilitating and even dangerous. It can affect both your sleeping and waking life.
Jet lag has its origins in the body’s circadian rhythm or “biological clock” and is biochemical in origin. Basically, our bodies are set up on a 24 hour cycle. Levels of different neurotransmitters and hormones fluctuate throughout the day in predictable patterns day after day. When we are forced to change our internal environment to match the external world during a significant time zone change, this strongly affects our bodies and mind.
The circadian rhythm is affected by the amount of sunlight there is and by the times we experience sunlight. In a significant time zone change, the outside stimuli do not match our internal biochemistry and we suffer from symptoms of jet lag.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
People with jet lag can suffer from the following symptoms:
- Daytime somnolence
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor concentration
- Lack of energy
It takes up to several days for our bodies to adjust to the different pattern of daytime and nighttime and, in the meantime, everything feels out of sorts.
Treatment of Jet Lag
There are ways to manage jet lag with or without the use of medication. Some non-medicine tricks you can do to help your experience of jet lag include:
- Try to anticipate the change in time by going to bed earlier if you are traveling toward the east and going to bed later if you are travelling toward the west. Similarly you will get up earlier if traveling east and get up later if you are traveling west.
- Choose a flight that lets you get into your new time zone by early evening. Then stay up until it is about 10 pm local time. If you feel you need a nap, take no longer than a two hour nap.
- When getting aboard your plane, set your watch to the time it is at your destination.
- Do not consume caffeine or alcohol within a three to four hour timespan before retiring to sleep.
- Don’t eat heavy meals at your destination for several days
- Don’t exercise right before trying to go to sleep.
- Try to purchase some blindfolds and earplugs to be used when you are trying to sleep.
- Enjoy the sunshine as much as possible. Sunshine is noted to reset the biological clock better than most anything.
If you are also under stress, the effects of jet lag will be worse for you. Remember that you will be sleeping in a foreign place with different noises and environmental cues than you are used to at home. This makes the first few days especially stressful. To help reduce the stress, bring along something to remind you of home, whether it be a favorite blanket, pictures of loved ones or a favorite item of clothing. Try to have all your calls rerouted to an answering machine at your hotel rather than facing answering calls when your body is trying to rest. Also, you should try to make sure the environment you will be sleeping in as free of extraneous noise and light during the nighttime hours.
You should pay attention to your sleep environment and make sure it is not too hot or too cold and make allowances for feeling somewhat worse if you have arrived at a location at a much different altitude than you are used to. The older you are, the more sensitive you will be to unwanted noise while trying to sleep.
You can have difficulty sleeping in the absence of noise you have become used to hearing in your home environment and the silence alone can disrupt your sleep. For example, if you are used to the ticking of a clock in your sleeping environment and don’t hear it at your destination location, it can make it very difficult to fall asleep. Try bringing along a white noise machine to your destination. It will block out extraneous noises and help you sleep better. It works even better if you normally use a white noise machine to sleep with at home.
Pay attention to your sleeping surface. Try to sleep recumbent in a comfortable bed that is neither too soft nor too hard. The temperature of the environment should be between about 54 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit as temperatures above or below these levels tend to keep you awake. If you are trying to sleep at altitudes much above 13,000 feet, you will experience a decrease in the oxygen levels in the air and will have difficulty sleeping for as long as three weeks after relocating to the higher altitude.
Some people try to reset their sleep-wake cycle using benzodiazepine medications that promote sleep. You basically try to override your biochemistry by forcing sleep upon you when you are supposed to be sleeping at your destination location. You can try over the counter sleep aids or get a prescription for a sleeping pill to be taken for the first several days at your new destination.
Melatonin is an over the counter natural product that is the same hormone your pineal gland in your brain secretes at the time you normally go to bed. You can buy melatonin at some pharmacies or at a health food store and you can take it at bedtime in order to trick your body into believing this is the right time to sleep.