Jet Lag (cont.)
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What is jet lag?
- What are other symptoms and signs of jet lag?
- What is a time zone?
- Why does jet lag occur?
- How does the body keep time?
- What is the role of melatonin in jet lag?
- Does the direction of travel matter?
- Do the symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity?
- How long does jet lag last?
- What are the best ways to cope with jet lag?
- Should I take melatonin?
How long does jet lag last?
Recovering from jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed while traveling. In general, the body will adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two time zones per day. For example, if you crossed six time zones, the body will typically adjust to this time change in three to five days.
What are the best ways to cope with jet lag?
There are several home remedies that can help with prevention of jet lag and easier recovery from the symptoms. The following are 12 tips to help travelers to avoid or to minimize the effects of jet lag.
Tip 1: Stay in shape
If you are in good physical condition, stay that way. In other words, long before you embark, continue to exercise, eat right, and get plenty of rest. Your physical stamina and conditioning will enable you to cope better after you land. If you are not physically fit, or have a poor diet, begin shaping up and eating right several weeks before your trip.
Tip 2: Get medical advice
If you have a medical condition that requires monitoring (such as diabetes or heart disease), consult your physician well in advance of your departure to plan a coping strategy that includes medication schedules and doctor's appointments, if necessary, in the destination time zone.
Tip 3: Change your schedule
If your stay in the destination time zone will last more than a few days, begin adjusting your body to the new time zone before you leave. For example, if you are traveling from the U.S. to Europe for a one-month vacation, set your daily routine back an hour or more three to four weeks before departure. Then, set it back another hour the following week and the week after that. Easing into the new schedule gradually in familiar surroundings will save your body the shock of adjusting all at once.
If you are traveling east, try going to sleep earlier and getting up and out into the early morning sun. If traveling west, try to get at least an hour's worth of sunlight as soon as possible after reaching your destination.
Tip 4: Avoid alcohol
Do not drink alcoholic beverages the day before your flight, during your flight, or the day after your flight. These beverages can cause dehydration, disrupt sleeping schedules, and trigger nausea and general discomfort.
Tip 5: Avoid caffeine
Likewise, do not drink caffeinated beverages before, during, or just after the flight. Caffeine can also cause dehydration and disrupt sleeping schedules. What's more, caffeine can jangle your nerves and intensify any travel anxiety you may already be feeling.
Tip 6: Drink water
Drink plenty of water, especially during the flight, to counteract the effects of the dry atmosphere inside the plane. Take your own water aboard the airplane if allowed.
Tip 7: Move around on the plane
While seated during your flight, exercise your legs from time to time. Move them up and down and back and forth. Bend your knees. Stand up and sit down. Every hour or two, get up and walk around. Do not take sleeping pills, and do not nap for more than an hour at a time.
These measures have a twofold purpose. First, they reduce your risk of developing a blood clot in the legs. Research shows that long periods of sitting can slow blood movement in and to the legs, thereby increasing the risk of a clot. The seat is partly to blame. It presses against the veins in the leg, restricting blood flow. Inactivity also plays a role. It decelerates the movement of blood through veins. If a clot forms, it sometimes breaks loose and travels to the lungs (known as pulmonary embolism), lodges in an artery, and inhibits blood flow. The victim may experience pain and breathing problems and cough up blood. If the clot is large, the victim could die. Second, remaining active, even in a small way, revitalizes and refreshes your body, wards off stiffness, and promotes mental and physical acuity which can ease the symptoms of jet lag.
Tip 8: Break up your trip
On long flights traveling across eight, 10, or even 12 time zones, break up your trip, if feasible, with a stay in a city about halfway to your destination. For example, if you are traveling from New York to Bombay, India, schedule a stopover of a few days in Dublin or Paris. (At noon in New York, it is 5 p.m. in Dublin, 6 p.m. in Paris, and 10:30 p.m. in Bombay.)
Tip 9: Wear comfortable shoes and clothes
On a long trip, how you feel is more important than how you look. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Avoid items that pinch, restrict, or chafe. When selecting your trip outfit, keep in mind the climate in your destination time zone. Dress for your destination.
Tip 10: Check your accommodations
Upon arrival, if you are staying at a hotel, check to see that beds and bathroom facilities are satisfactory and that cooling and heating systems are in good working order. If the room is unsuitable, ask for another.
Tip 11: Adapt to the local schedule
The sooner you adapt to the local schedule, the quicker your body will adjust. Therefore, if you arrive at noon local time (but 6 a.m. your time), eat lunch, not breakfast. During the day, expose your body to sunlight by taking walks or sitting in outdoor cafés. The sunlight will cue your hypothalamus to reduce the production of sleep-inducing melatonin during the day, thereby initiating the process of resetting your internal clock.
When traveling with children, try to get them on the local schedule as well. When traveling east and you will lose time, try to keep the child awake until the local bedtime. If traveling west when you will gain time, wake your child up at the local time.
Tip 12: Use sleeping medications wisely -- or not at all
Try to establish sleeping patterns without resorting to pills. However, if you have difficulty sleeping on the first two or three nights, it's OK to take a mild sedative if your physician has prescribed one. But wean yourself off the sedative as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could become habit-forming.
There are also some homeopathic remedies that may be used. A product called No Jet Lag contains homeopathic remedies leopard's bane (Arnica montana), daisy (Bellis perennis), wild chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), ipecac (Cephalelis ipecacuanha), and club moss (Lycopodium).
Valerian root is an herb that can be used as treatment for insomnia. Do not take valerian with alcohol. It is important to consult your physician before taking these or any other homeopathic or herbal remedy.
Sleep medications are not recommended for children.
Next: Should I take melatonin?
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