Jet lag is the disturbance to sleep patterns produced by travelling across several times zones when flying East or West.
It is usually worse when you fly East (towards the Middle East, China and Japan or returning to the UK from a stay in the USA) as the body finds it harder to accept a shorter day (in effect requiring you to go to bed early and sleep) than a longer day (requiring you to stay up longer and then sleep).
Jet lag is associated with a feeling of tiredness, confusion and lethargy. The most common problem is an inability to sleep at night in the new time zone. Sufferers will find it difficult to fall to sleep at the required time and despite only a small amount of sleep sufferers will often wake up very early at what would have been the normal waking time in their normal time zone.
If you take medicines at the same time each day, such as the oral contraceptive pill or insulin, you should discuss this with your pharmacist to ensure you do not miss doses or take too much.
What are the causes of jet lag?
Your body has a natural body clock that dictates the daily pattern of waking and sleep. This pattern is called the circadian rhythm and is set to your local time zone by the hours of light and dark you experience. This circadian rhythm affects when you feel awake and tired, but also when you feel hungry, your body temperature and blood pressure and even when you go to the toilet.
When you travel across time zones it takes a while for your body clock to adjust, and so it may be making you feel wide awake when it’s bedtime in the new time zone or very tired when you should be raring to go. This can be a serious problem on business trips but also can spoil the first few days of a holiday that has cost you a fortune!
Treatments for jet lag
Most people find that symptoms of jet lag will gradually reduce over 2-3 days and the symptoms are not a serious health problem but can be rather disruptive and very inconvenient. You can help your body adjust by adopting the correct times for eating and sleeping in the new time zone as soon as possible. This may mean really trying to stay up when you first arrive. Spending time outside may also help as natural light will influence your body clock to adapt more quickly. Avoiding dehydration is also important to reduce jet lag.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that can help to ease jet lag by “resetting” the body clock. Melatonin is naturally released by the body in the evening when it gets dark to let your body know it’s time to sleep, and production is reduced in response to light to help you wake up. It can be used to help jet lag by helping you to sleep at the appropriate time for the new time zone.