What Is Jet Lag? How You Can Beat It

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What Is Jet Lag? How You Can Beat It

Consistency in sleep is vital for one's overall health and well-being; however, lengthy journeys can significantly disrupt this routine. A transient s

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Consistency in sleep is vital for one’s overall health and well-being; however, lengthy journeys can significantly disrupt this routine. A transient sleep disorder known as “jet lag” results from exceedingly rapid time zone changes beyond the capacity of the internal body clock to adapt. A variety of symptoms can develop, such as drowsiness, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, gastrointestinal distress, and others. Specialists in sleep medicine classify jet lag as a circadian rhythm disorder.

For frequent travelers, possessing knowledge regarding jet lag, encompassing its symptoms, potential treatments, and preventative measures, can significantly mitigate the physical strain and disruption caused by long-distance travel.

Understanding the following regarding jet lag will allow you to safeguard your health and sleep while traveling.

The Causes of Jet Lag

Your circadian rhythms remain acclimated to the time of day from which you depart, even after you transocean. As your body adjusts to this, you may experience symptoms of jet lag.

According to medical professionals, jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that typically appears after traveling through more than three time zones. However, it has the potential to affect individuals who traverse multiple time zones.

Furthermore, certain travel conditions increase the likelihood of experiencing jet lag, including sleep deprivation, prolonged seating in an uncomfortable position, excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol, fluctuating cabin air pressure, and inhalation of poor air quality.

East or West, which is worse for jet lag?

The rate of circadian rhythm adaptation to a new time zone is proportional to the direction of travel and the number of time zones traversed. Generally, an eastward journey exacerbates jet lag. Certain authorities hypothesize that this is due to the fact that eastward travel directly counteracts one’s circadian rhythm, whereas westward travel exposes one to extended daylight hours.

Given how closely light (and darkness) exposure regulates your circadian rhythm, this daylight may make it simpler to adjust to traveling westward.

Researchers at the University of Maryland utilized a mathematical model to determine, in accordance with the direction of flight, how long it would take to recover from jet lag. According to their findings, it would take eight days to recover from a nine-zone journey when flying in the western direction. However, if you fly east, your recovery could take up to thirteen days.

Symptoms of Jet Lag

Not only do the symptoms of jet lag differ between individuals, but even within the same individual, distinct symptoms may manifest following each voyage. This complicates the task for medical professionals in distinguishing symptoms that may be attributed to jet lag from those that may have originated from alternative factors.

However, it is common for individuals suffering from jet lag to encounter multiple subsequent symptoms while traveling through three or more time zones:

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability Poor performance on physical or mental tasks
  • Difficulty going to sleep (after eastward flights)
  • Early awakening (after westward flights)
  • Fractionated sleep

Additionally, crossing multiple time zones may disrupt the administration schedule of your prescribed medications. If your medication regimen necessitates the administration of various doses on a daily basis, it may be beneficial to consult your healthcare provider regarding dosing schedule adherence strategies.

Jet lag: Treatment and Coping

Jet lag is a temporary condition for which no permanent treatments exist. The following are, therefore, some strategies for overcoming jet fatigue.

Consider Supplements and Medications

If you consistently experience jet lag as a result of extensive travel, consult a healthcare professional regarding potential beneficial medications and supplements.

For example, melatonin has been recommended by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to alleviate the symptoms associated with jet lag. However, professionals advise against combining melatonin with certain other medications due to potential safety concerns; therefore, it is vital to consult your healthcare provider beforehand.

Rozerem (ramelteon), an FDA-approved treatment for insomnia, is an additional option. Ramelteon belongs to the class of drugs referred to as melatonin receptor agonists. It functions in a manner analogous to melatonin, an endogenous brain hormone essential for sleep.

According to research, ingesting one milligram (mg) of ramelteon prior to bedtime can aid in sleep onset, especially for those who have traveled east. Hypnotics like Zolpimist (zolpidem), Imovane (zopiclone), and Restoril (temazepam) are sometimes prescribed, but they do not help reset circadian rhythms, and they do not make symptoms better.

Use Light to Adjust

When you travel through different time zones, your exposure to light may alter, which is one of the causes of jet lag. Your internal rhythm may be disrupted depending on whether you are exposed to more or less light in the course of your travel.

Some scientists have suggested that, to encourage the body to acclimate to the local time zone, light exposure from the sun or a light box may be utilized. The evidence, however, regarding the efficacy of light exposure to remedy jet lag is mixed.

According to some research, exposure to morning light advances the internal clock to an earlier time, whereas exposure to evening light delays it.

Hence, it is advisable to pursue brilliant light exposure in the evening subsequent to a westward journey and in the morning next to an eastward journey, particularly after traversing eight or more time zones.

It may be advantageous to minimize exposure to intense light when crossing eight time zones or more, as light that was previously perceived as “morning” becomes apparent as “evening.”

Exercise may be beneficial.

Although it might be the last thing on your mind to do so after a long flight, researchers believe that engaging in physical activity at specific times of the day can positively affect your circadian rhythms.

Engaging in physical activity during your journey can assist in overcoming travel fatigue and mitigate daytime drowsiness upon your arrival at your destination.

Consider walking or organizing an activity. Unless it is already nighttime at your new location, make every effort to delay falling into bed. Make every effort to remain alert until bedtime.

How to Prevent Jet Lag

One potential strategy for mitigating jet lag is to focus on factors that contribute to or exacerbate the condition. An illustration of this is how the scheduling of meals, exercise, and sleep preceding a journey can significantly influence the intensity of jet lag experienced at the destination.

Here are some methods supported by science for preventing jet lag:

  • Adjust your sleep schedule prior to departure. A few days prior to your travel, you may wish to gradually adjust your bedtime to coincide with the time zone of your destination. Even if you can only implement a partial adjustment, it can still be beneficial. For instance, retire several nights earlier than usual for a half-hour prior to an eastward journey. Staying up for multiple consecutive nights a half hour later is recommended for those who are traveling west.
  • Implement the new bedtime promptly. Upon your arrival, promptly adjust your bedtime to reflect the time zone change. Additionally, despite the temptation to sleep, refrain from retiring to bed until the designated rest in your new time zone.
  • Although dehydration is a common occurrence during travel, permitting yourself to become dehydrated could exacerbate your jet lag symptoms. Hydrate yourself extensively prior to, during, and subsequent to your voyage. However, avoid consuming stimulants and alcohol. These two options have the potential to disrupt your slumber.
  • Bear in mind the portion sizes and timing of your meals: Individuals who are flight-lagged may occasionally suffer from gastrointestinal problems. As a consequence, consuming smaller meals prior to and throughout the flight could potentially mitigate gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, delaying meals may be beneficial. In fact, scientists discovered that postponing a meal by five hours alters the phase relationship of the circadian rhythms, which may prevent or reduce jet lag symptoms.
  • Make use of a mobile application: A variety of applications are specifically developed to offer personalized guidance on effectively managing symptoms associated with jet lag. To help you acclimate, Timeshifter guides you on when to consume caffeine, light, melatonin, and sleep, among other things.

The Bottom Line

When traveling across multiple time zones, the circadian rhythms become out of sync with local time, resulting in jet lag, a temporary sleep disorder. A variety of symptoms may ensue, such as drowsiness, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, gastrointestinal distress, and others.

Although there is little that can be done to prevent jet lag completely, it is possible to mitigate or avert severe symptoms by adjusting your sleep schedule and remaining hydrated. It may be beneficial to adapt to the local time zone and adopt their curfew as soon as possible if you do experience jet lag.

Jet lag will typically resolve itself; however, you should consult a medical professional if your symptoms persist or become bothersome.


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