When I was in college, I studied abroad for a semester. The first two months were spent in Switzerland—although, each weekend I traveled to a new-to-me city in Europe—and the last month was spent in Rwanda. When it was finally time to come home at the end of the most exhausting, adventurous, and rewarding three months of my life, I was ready. In fact, I was eager: to snuggle up with my dog, enjoy home-cooked meals, see my friends and family, and just relax. But shortly after I stepped off that plane in the Dulles airport, I knew that things wouldn’t go exactly as planned.
I struggled with a serious case of jet lag. I felt tired all the time, yet I couldn’t sleep; I was nauseous at every meal; I became dizzy with any sudden movement; and I was generally out of it 24/7. I was initially confused and surprised that I felt this way. When I landed in Switzerland at the start of my trip, I adjusted quite well to the time change and didn’t experience any symptoms of jet lag. But I realized I simply wasn’t so lucky this time around.
Fortunately, after a week or so, I was feeling like myself again. I could finally enjoy my time with my loved ones and my dog; I could finally enjoy my favorite home-cooked meals and some much-needed R&R (rest and relaxation). That said, those 7 days of jet lag were far from fun… and I was overjoyed when it came to an end—as some people experience more severe symptoms of jet lag and for an even longer period of time. Let’s take a look.
What Does Jet Lag Feel Like? What Are the Symptoms?
If you’ve ever traveled across time zones, you’ve probably experienced jet lag. This is a temporary condition that results from air travel across time zones, which disrupts your internal body clock. Jet lag is classified as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder and is characterized by a number of physical and emotional symptoms including:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
Have you recently traveled across time zones and you’re now experiencing the above symptoms? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably experiencing jet lag. A medical diagnosis isn’t typically necessary, as these symptoms will go away typically within a few days. The question is, exactly how many days will you have to put up with these symptoms?
When Will My Jet Lag Go Away?
Each case of jet lag is dependent on how many time zones you cross over. For example, your jet lag will probably last longer if you traveled across five zones than it will if you traveled across three time zones. The most important thing to know is that jet lag is temporary—this isn’t something you’ll be dealing with for the rest of your life or even more than a couple weeks. Rarely are there any serious complications that come with jet lag. However, if you are concerned about how you’re feeling after a long trip, meeting with a medical professional can help you ensure you’re healthy, better understand what you’re experiencing, and give you peace of mind.
Air travel is amazing for a number of reasons – you can hop on a plane in California one day and hop off in Madagascar the next, having traveled 11,000 miles across the planet. During that trip, you also cross 12 time zones, ending up in a spot that’s 12 hours ahead of where you started.
That’s when jet lag, or jet lag disorder, kicks in: temporary damage to your sleep patterns after traveling quickly across multiple time zones. The amount of time it takes to recover depends on how far you traveled, but you do have ways to expedite the recovery process.
Damage to Your Circadian Rhythm
Your body’s internal clock is in charge of its circadian rhythm, which signals your body when it’s time to sleep and when it should stay awake. When you travel across several time zones in a short period of time, your circadian rhythm remains synced to the time zone in your original location, and your destination’s time zone might not match up.
Though your body will, inevitably, adjust eventually, jet lag can take its toll on your travel plans – for example, it’d be tough to enjoy an afternoon in Madagascar if 2 p.m. there feels like 2 a.m. to your body. The influence of sunlight plays one of the biggest roles in jet lag, because it largely determines your circadian rhythm. Sunlight influences how your body regulates melatonin, a hormone that works to synchronize cells through the body.
Jet Lag Influencers
In low light, an area of your brain called the hypothalamus signals the pineal gland, also in the brain, to release melatonin. This helps your body sleep. During daylight hours, the hypothalamus reverses its signal, and the pineal gland slows melatonin production.
Cabin pressure and the atmosphere in airplanes also may play a role in jet lag, regardless of how many time zones you cross in flight. Air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet may lower oxygen levels in your blood, causing feelings of discomfort. Moreover, people don’t move around much on airplanes, which may also contribute to jet lag.
Finally, humidity levels are particularly low in airplane cabins, so it’s easier to become dehydrated if you don’t make a concerted effort to drink enough water on the plane. Dehydration can further exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
Jet Lag Symptoms
Symptoms of jet lag generally include:
- Disturbed sleep (including excessive sleepiness, early waking and insomnia)
- Fatigue during the day
- Difficulty functioning and concentrating as usual
- Constipation, diarrhea and other stomach problems
- General feeling of being unwell
- Mood swings
Travelers should take care when driving if they are experiencing jet lag, and those who travel frequently might consider seeing a sleep specialist to cope with any long-term effects. Symptoms often hit frequent flyers and older adults more heavily than other travelers.
How Long It Lasts
The more time zones you cross during your travels, as a general rule, you can expect jet lag to last longer, especially if you traveled from west to east. The rule of thumb for jet lag recovery is that it takes one to two days to recover for each time zone crossed – so, for your California-to-Madagascar trip, you could expect to recover in 12 to 14 days.
As previously mentioned, flying from west to east is usually harder on the body than traveling in the opposite direction. That’s because your body is better equipped to handle an unusually long day than it is to handle a short one – in other words, it’s tougher to fall asleep when you feel as if you’re supposed to be awake than it is to stay awake when you feel as though you should be sleeping. It may take longer to recover from jet lag after traveling east than it would for east-to-west travel.
If you have a big trip coming up and you’d like to shorten the impending effects of jet lag, start making some efforts before your flight is scheduled to depart. Start by staying (or getting) in shape. Travelers in good physical condition – that is, those who eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep – tend to have greater physical stamina and cope better with the effects of jet lag after landing.
You can also begin adjusting your body to the new time zone before you’re supposed to leave. For more distant travels, this method isn’t 100 percent effective – for example, it’d be tough to set your life ahead 12 hours in preparation for a trip from California to Madagascar. However, you can, starting a few weeks before your trip, begin making small schedule adjustments, hour-by-hour, to help ease your body into the new time zone and reduce the length of your jet lag recovery period.
If you’re traveling across eight to 12 time zones, consider building a stopover into your trip to help ease the shock. A few days at a halfway point can help your circadian rhythm catch up a bit before crossing even more time zones. Finally, get a solid night’s sleep the night before leaving for your trip, and plan to wear an outfit on your flight that prioritizes comfort.
The preparation continues once you’ve boarded your flight. Since dehydration can have an impact on how well your body copes to a new time zone, make sure to drink plenty of water or bring your own tea bags to make hot tea, which might help you get some shut-eye on the plane as well.
Caffeine and alcohol also cause dehydration and disturb sleep patterns. As a general rule of thumb, avoid alcoholic beverages the day before your flight, during your flight and the day after you land. Caffeine has less of an impact, so limit your intake restrictions to the day of travel – avoid caffeinated beverages before, during and just after your flight.
Make an effort to move around in the cabin during your flight, ideally every hour or two. Movement helps regulate your body, including sleep patterns, and promotes mental alertness. Do not take sleeping pills – hot tea might help ease you to sleep in-flight, but it’s best not to nap for longer than an hour at a time while on the plane.
Dealing With Jet Lag After Landing
No matter how well you prepare for the reality of jet lag, it’s likely to hit to some degree at least. Take careful measures to speed up jet lag recovery once you’ve landed in your destination.
First, adapt to the local schedule as quickly as possible. If you arrive in Madagascar at 12 p.m. and your body feels like it’s midnight, eat lunch anyway. Make sure to get out in the sunlight to help your circadian rhythm adjust appropriately, and do your best to stay awake until your bedtime in the local time zone. It might be a rough first day, but your body will thank you in the long run. That said, it’s easier to arrive at your destination in the daytime and force yourself to stay awake than it is to arrive at night and force yourself to go to sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping during the first days of your trip, consider a melatonin supplement or a mild sedative to urge your body toward a normal sleep schedule. However, avoid relying on sleeping pills to regulate your habits, and try to adjust to the local time zone as naturally as possible.
A fter years of traveling across a lot of time zones I’ve learned a few tricks to overcome jet leg more quickly. In this article I’ll share 7 tips to quickly overcome jet lag.
I just returned from a trip to Singapore where the time zone is 14 hours different than mine. Which means night and day are switched. I was immediately busy leading a 5-day workshop, so I had no time for jet lag. I’ve tried many methods, schedules, and even a few apps to beat jet lag. I’ve settled on the most productive ways to quickly overcome it.
What is jet lag? As we travel rapidly – by jet – over many time zones our body’s internal clock remains set on our previous time zone. Your body has a rhythm, and that rhythm gets out of whack when we suddenly land in new time zone.
We often relate jet lag to sleep, but it also affects our eating and our, well, plumbing. No one wants to be groggy, lethargic, or constipated when traveling. The faster you reset your body clock to the new local time zone, the better you’ll feel.
Beating jet lag is the key to being productive on a business trip or relaxing on vacation. Here is how I do it.
How to Beat Jet Lag
- Begin fresh. Start your trip rested and refreshed. Staying up until midnight packing before a 7 am flight isn’t doing yourself any favors. Begin packing two days before. Finish packing and have all your bags ready early. Get to bed on time. You don’t want to begin your trip on a sleep deficit.
- Hydrate. Drink way more water than you think you need to on the airplane. The air on airplanes is so dry that it quickly causes dehydration. Avoid alcohol. Contrary to popular believe, alcohol actually disrupts sleep, rather than aids it. It also dehydrates you. It’s dehydration that causes headaches and fatigue. A lot of water in your body helps your body to recover and stay good. This is my #1, don’t miss, gotta do it, tip.
- Sleep on the airplane.Bring an eye mask and earplugs to block out the light and sound. Even if you normally don’t sleep sitting up, you’ll find that you get a few hours sleep on the airplane. I’ve never been one to take sleeping pills, but others find that it helps them get a few hours sleep on a long transpacific flight. A nonprescription alternative is Melatonin, which is a hormone sold as a supplement that works for some people. Always consult a doctor before taking this or other medicine.
- Think in local time. As soon as you get on the airplane reset your watch to the local time where you are going. Begin to think in that time zone. Regulate your sleep and meals on the airplane to match that time zone, if possible. Avoid thinking, “My body thinks it’s 2 am.” Go to bed near your normal time. And stay in bed until your normal time. Getting your body clock on local time is one of the keys to overcoming jet lag more quickly.
- Stay busy. Once you arrive, have a schedule of things to do to keep you reasonably busy. If you find yourself sitting for a long period, you will be tempted to nod off. Pacing is the key.
- Eat fresh. Eating heavy greasy high carbohydrate meals is a sure way to make you feel lethargic and sleepy. Eat fresh. Eat light. And always, eat local. Fresh fruit and vegetables along with coffee in the morning will help you avoid constipation that sometimes accompanies jet lag. Overeating and snacking can cause sleepiness. And sugar results in a sugar high the drops off after an hour or so sending you looking for your bed.
- Exercise. Take on jet lag by exercising and moving your body. Take a 20-minute walk the morning or in the evening or both. Do a few push-ups, planks, jumping jacks and deep knee-bends. Moving will get your blood flowing and tell your body, “it’s time to be awake!” The added bonus is exposure to sunlight which adjust your body rhythms.
For me, the worst day is the third day. I often wake up with a headache and feel more dull then on previous other days. Unless I’m actually feeling sick, I take a couple of aspirin and push through with the list above. I think of it as jet lag’s last attack. Usually by that evening I’ve beat it.
And then it’s time to return home and battle jet lag again!
Question: What do you do to overcome jet lag? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
What is Jet Lag?? What is the remedy for Jet Lag? How many hours or days will you be Jet Lagged in case of a trans-meridian air travel? Know more about jet lag, about jetlag remedy, light therapy and Melatonin usage.
Jet Lag Calculator
Use the Jet Lag calculator given below to find how much you will be jet lagged on a trip. Get free suggestions to reduce jet lag and determine the number of time zones crossed during air travel between two cities.
What is jet lag?
People crossing 3 or more time zones during air travel often experience uneasiness due to the alteration of their body’s circadian rhythm or their internal body clock. This condition is know an Jet Lag and someone who is going through this psychological condition is said to be Jet Lagged. Jet lag is a result of long distance trans-meridian travel, leaving the body clock out of synchronization with the destination time.
What are the Causes of Jet Lag and What are its symptoms
The main cause of Jet Lag is the crossing time zones. While crossing more than 3 or 4 time zones, the body starts experiencing daylight and darkness contrary to what it is used to. This sudden change upsets or desynchronizes the biological clock causing the psychological condition known as Jet Lag.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
The symptoms of Jet lag varies from person to person, as well as with the person’s health, age, number of time zones crossed etc. However, some of the most common Jet Lag symptoms are Headaches, Fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, insomnia, Disorientation, grogginess, irritability, Mild depression, Constipation or diarrhea etc.
Jet Lag Remedy
Minimizing the effect of Jet lag is the best remedy for jet lag. By following few simple steps, the effect of Jet Lag can be reduced to a minimum.
Light Therapy – Light Therapy is an effective remedy against Jet lag. The timing and duration of light therapy depends on the direction of air travel as well as the number of time zones crossed.
Traveling West – No light therapy is necessary if you are crossing only 3 or less than 3 timezones. In case of west bound flight travel a person will be jet lagged by a day for the first 4 time zones crossed and an additional 1 day for every 3 timezones crossed there after.
While traveling west, light therapy is advised in the evening. Expose yourself to bright light in the evening.
Traveling East – If you are traveling east, one day’s preparation is required if you are crossing 2 or 3 timezones. An extra day’s preparation is necessary for every additional 2 timezones crossed.
If you are traveling east, expose yourself to bright light in the morning.
The Jet lag calculator and Jet lag remedies provided here are for information purpose only and should not be considered as an alternative to medical advice by professionals.
Rapid travel across several time zones disturbs normal body rhythm and produces many physical and psychological stresses on the body. Commonly referred to as jet lag, the medical term is “circadian dysrhythmia,” and while this rarely causes any severe problems, a few days of discomfort may take place before your body adjusts to your new time zone.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
The following are the most common symptoms of jet lag. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- general fatigue
- sleepiness during the day
- difficulty with normal sleeping patterns
- impaired mental ability and memory
- gastrointestinal discomforts, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, or constipation
- reduced physical activity
The symptoms of jet lag may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a physician for diagnosis.
How long does it take to recover from jet lag?
The rule of thumb is that generally for west-to-east trips, it takes one day to recover for each time zone you crossed. For east-to-west trips, one day is required for each one and a half time zones crossed.
Some people like to break up a long trip with a stopover to help themselves adjust to the new time zone to which they are traveling. It is also a good idea to build in an extra day or two of low-key activities to help compensate for jet lag.
Is there any way to prevent jet lag?
There is nothing that eliminates jet lag entirely. The following tips will, however, help to minimize its effects and help you to recover more quickly:
- Drink plenty of beverages to keep yourself well hydrated during your flight. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
- Eat smaller meals that are high in protein and low in fat before, during, and just after your flight.
- Try going to bed earlier than usual for a few days before an eastbound flight; if flying westbound, stay up later than usual.
- Set your watch to your destination during your flight to begin making the psychological adjustment to your new time zone.
- If arriving early in the morning at your destination, sleep as much as you can during the flight, then try to make it through the day and go to bed early that evening. If arriving at your destination in the evening, plan to go to bed shortly after you arrive.
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Scientists Claim that Jet Lag Is Worse for Travelers Flying East
University of Maryland scientists explain that jet lags from flying east take a harder toll on our natural brain cell cycle.
Seasoned flyers may begin to see a pattern where some flights have jet lags that take longer than others. University of Maryland scientists claim that flying east may take more than just the recommended one day of rest to recover.
What Is a Jet Lag?
Jet lag is the experience of desynchronization due to traveling to different time zones, Medical News Today reported. Traveling can disrupt our body’s natural circadian rhythm, and it can cause symptoms including headache, lethargy, appetite loss, insomnia, irritability and confusion.
Mathemetical Model Reveals Jet Lags from Flying East Is Worse than From Flying West
Scientists say that travelers suffer more and may need more time to recover from jet lag if they fly east through several timezones than flying from the other direction. Science Alert reported that it has something to do with our brain cells.
These cells are called “neuronal oscillator cells,” and they are the ones responsible for modulating the body’s circadian rhythm. They also look at external cues to sync the body up according to its biological clock especially after flying.
When these brain cells do not get their share of external cues, they may take around 24.5 hours to adjust. The longer cycle may affect those who shorten their day by flying east than those who fly by west. The details of the study are published in the journal Chaos.
Jet Lag Mathemetical Model
To prove this theory and to find out how long a person can fully recover from a jet lag by flying east, the scientists used a mathematical model to calculate it. They found that recovering may take longer based on the number of time zones crossed and the direction of traveling.
This means that longer eastward travels across five timezones will mean that the brain clock will set 19 hours backward instead of five hours forward. So according to the model, a person will need around more than four days to recover from a flight traveling east across three time zones but only three days from the opposite direction, Live Science noted. For six time zones, recovery will be at least eight days, and nine time zones will need more than 12 days of recovery period. However, people’s circadian rhythms are different, and experiences may vary.
Scientists said that they will need to conduct further research with regard to their mathemetical model. CNN wrote that the model the scientists used is simplified and will need more parameters and biological data to make it more realistic.
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I t can take five days to feel normal again after a long-haul flight. What with daytime sleepiness, nightly insomnia, loss of appetite, clouded thinking and poor co-ordination, this can seem like a long time. It’s worse if you are sleep-deprived before you travel, cross more than four timezones, get dehydrated on the flight by drinking alcohol or if you are travelling east, which we find harder to tolerate than going west as the body clock copes better with being asked to stay up longer.
Jet lag is caused by disrupting your circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates sleep and waking. This clock is a tiny group of cells in the brain: the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s controlled by light and dark and the hormone melatonin, which is produced when it gets dark and controls our body temperature while we sleep.
Melatonin can be made synthetically and in America is available as a herbal remedy over the counter. In the UK it is classified as a medicine and is only available to people over 55 with insomnia. But would it help jet lag? Or should you try sleeping tablets to get to sleep and stimulants such as coffee to keep awake?
A systematic review of research by the Cochrane Collaboration revealed that melatonin can be taken to reduce jet lag when crossing two or more timezones. Between 0.5mg to 5 mg of melatonin, taken daily at bedtime, helped people to get to sleep faster and better (particularly for the higher dose), as well as reduce sleepiness during daytime.
Melatonin works better the more timezones are crossed and for travelling east more than west. However it is not safe for everyone and people with epilepsy or on warfarin should not take it. There is some evidence to suggest that if you travel west, but are only staying for a couple of days, it is best to stick to your home timezone to reduce jet lag, otherwise you should adopt the local time as soon as possible.
If you are travelling east, it helps to stay in the dark for at least three hours after arriving to try to reset the circadian rhythm. If going west, get out in the daylight.
Sleeping tablets are often used to get back into a waking and sleeping cycle but the evidence is not clear that they work. Caffeine reduces sleepiness but makes it harder to fall asleep at night. And the really bad news is that research suggests it doesn’t even help to sleep on the plane, unless you’re flying when you’d usually be asleep.
You stagger off the plane in Kathmandu after making the 20-hour journey from New York City. Your body thinks it’s 2 a.m.. But here in Nepal, it’s almost noon. This jet lag is like nothing you’ve ever experienced — you can’t even think straight. Is there a magical jet lag cure you can try?
Jet Lag Prevention vs. Jet Lag Cures
Jet lag — the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms by crossing time zones —is no joke. Jet lag symptoms may include disturbed sleep, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, digestive upset and feelings of fuzziness or fogginess.
As with almost anything in life, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Travel experts say you can avoid jet lag with tricks like adjusting your sleep routine and meal times before you leave.
But sometimes, you’re not able to follow the jet lag prevention guidelines. Maybe the call of the hotel bed is just too strong, and you end up sleeping when you shouldn’t. Maybe you had a few glasses of wine on the plane instead of herbal tea. Whatever the reason, you’re now feeling awful, and you can’t afford to just wait it out. (Recovery usually takes one day per time zone crossed, according to the Mayo Clinic. 1 ) Take heart — we’ll tell you how to cure jet lag.
Help on the Fly
Before we share our top jet leg cures, here’s another resource that can help you out when you’re halfway around the world and the jet lag struggle is real: travel insurance. Face it, when you’re not at your best, things can go awry faster and easier than when you’re at your best. And Allianz Global Assistance travel insurance plans provide a number of benefits to help you in a pinch, whether you’re dealing with a travel delay or lost bag. Additionally, our 24-Hr. Hotline Assistance operators can help you find a pharmacy, urgent care facility, or whatever you need — no matter the time or language. Find the travel insurance plan that’s right for you and rest assured that you have one more potential remedy in your pocket if jet lag comes calling. Best of all, you can easily access this assistance directly from the TravelSmart mobile app .
6 Jet Lag Remedies To Try
- Take melatonin to help reset your internal clock. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. “Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours,” WebMD explains. 2 You can use small doses of melatonin to help your body shift its inner rhythms. Take a dose after dark on the first few days after you arrive. 3 Talk to your doctor first, however, because melatonin isn’t recommended for everyone.
- Soak up the sunshine. Sunlight is an effective jet lag cure because it’s a powerful way to adjust your circadian rhythms. If you traveled west, get out in the morning light and try to avoid afternoon sun; if you traveled east, do the reverse. 4 And if you’re up at the crack of dawn, make the most of it! “Get out and enjoy a ‘pinch me, I’m in Europe’ walk, as merchants set up in the marketplace and the town slowly comes to life,” says travel guru Rick Steves. “This may be the only sunrise you’ll see in Europe.”
- Commit fully to your new time zone. Your stomach says it’s waffle time; the clock says it’s falafel time. Go with the clock on this one. “Don’t try to ease into it. Embrace it,” Solo Traveler says of a major time zone shift. 5 This will speed up your adjustment period.
- Eat light meals. Nutritionists recommend eating smaller meals that include protein, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables. That way, your energy levels will stay steady, instead of rising and crashing. 6 Delish recommends specific foods that serve as jet lag remedies, such as cherries, chicken, and quinoa — but if you’ve just landed in Rome, are you really going to look for a place that serves quinoa? Stay hydrated, too. Caffeine and alcohol may make jet lag symptoms worse. Drinking lots of water, juice or herbal tea can help your body recover faster.
- Move around. OK, the research is still coming in on this jet lag cure, but we’re liking what we’re seeing and learning so far. While exercise has long been rumored to be an effective means of restoring your body’s circadian rhythms to order, the science has been lacking — until now. Recent research from The Journal of Physiology buoys this belief, as the study showed that, regardless of age or sex, exercising at 7 a.m. or between 1 and 4 p.m. caused participants’ circadian rhythm to occur earlier, while exercising between 7 and 10 p.m. shifted the body clock back. So, hit your hotel’s gym or take to local trails accordingly; you can’t argue with science.
- See a doctor about serious jet lag. Jet lag usually eases after a few days, depending on how far you’ve traveled. But can jet lag symptoms last for a week or two? Definitely. If you travel frequently and you have a hard time recovering from jet lag, or feel like you’re in a perpetual fog, you should consult your doctor. Possible prescriptions include sleeping medications or light therapy.
Jet lag can make delivering that all-important business presentation a lofty challenge. It can curtail the enjoyment of what’s supposed to be the greatest trip of your life. But with the right preventative measures and cures at your disposal, you can feel like the best version of yourself no matter the time or time zone.
You can’t wait to go to your sister’s wedding and see family and friends. But you’re not so thrilled at the idea of the long cross-country flight from California to North Carolina.
You feel fine for a while after you get there. But later that night, you have trouble sleeping, even though you’re tired. And your stomach is giving you problems.
You have jet lag.
- Jet lag happens when you fly across one or more time zones. Most people need to cross three time zones to notice jet lag. The more time zones you cross, the worse jet lag may be.
- Jet lag may make it hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or stay awake during the day. It also can make you feel weak, or you may lose your appetite. You may not be able to have a bowel movement (constipation), or you may have diarrhea.
- Jet lag can happen to anyone. Your age, fitness, health, and how often you fly don’t make a difference in whether you get it.
- Jet lag usually is worse when a person flies east rather than west. In other words, it will be worse when a person goes from the United States to Europe than from Europe to the U.S.
- Jet lag makes you feel bad, but it isn’t serious. Most people get better 3 to 4 days after their flight.
- The supplement melatonin may help relieve the symptoms of jet lag. Sleeping pills may help too. But both of these also have downsides.
How can you deal with jet lag?
You can’t cure jet lag, but you may be able to reduce the symptoms using the hormone supplement melatonin and sleeping pills. Other treatments besides medicines have not been studied or have been studied very little, but they may be worth trying.
Melatonin and sleeping pills
Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes. It regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then go down early in the morning.
Taking melatonin may help “reset” your biological clock.
Suggestions about times and dosages vary among researchers who have studied melatonin. Doctors recommend that you:
- Take melatonin after dark on the day you travel and after dark for a few days after you arrive at your destination.
- Take melatonin in the evening for a few days before you fly if you will be flying east.
The safety and effectiveness of melatonin have not been thoroughly tested. Taking large doses of it may cause sleep disruption and daytime fatigue. If you have epilepsy or are taking warfarin (such as Coumadin), talk to your doctor before you use melatonin.
The sleeping pills eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zolpidem (Ambien) have been studied for jet lag. They may help you sleep despite jet lag if you take them before bedtime after you arrive at your destination. You may have side effects of headaches, dizziness, confusion, and feeling sick to your stomach.
Other things to do
None of the things in the following lists have been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them helpful.
Before you go, and on the plane
- Be well rested before you start to travel.
- If you are flying east, go to bed 1 hour earlier each night for a few days before your trip. If you’re flying west, go to bed 1 hour later each night instead. But if your trip will last 2 days or less, stay on your home time.
- Set your watch to your new time zone as you start flying. If it’s nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the plane. Sleep masks, earplugs, and headphones may help. If it’s daytime at your destination, try to stay awake.
- On the plane, drink water to avoid dehydration. Avoid alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine.
When you arrive
- Try to change your schedule to the new time as soon as you can. For example, if you arrive at 4 p.m., do your best to stay awake until your usual bedtime. Get up in the morning instead of sleeping late.
- Think about light exposure. If you flew east, try to avoid bright light in the morning, and get light in the afternoon. To avoid light in the morning, stay indoors, such as by going to a mall or a museum. If you flew west, stay awake during daylight, and try to sleep after dark. This may help adjust your body clock and help your body make melatonin at the right time.
- Caffeine may help you stay alert during the day after you arrive. But it also may make it harder to sleep at night.
If you have an important event, try to arrive a few days early so your body can adjust to the new time zone.
New research in mice reveals why the body is so slow to recover from jet lag and identifies a target for the development of drugs that could help us to adjust faster to changes in time zone.
With funding from the Wellcome Trust and F. Hoffmann La Roche, researchers at the University of Oxford, University of Notre Dame and F. Hoffmann La Roche have identified a mechanism that limits the ability of the body clock to adjust to changes in patterns of light and dark. And the team show that if you block the activity of this gene in mice, they recover faster from disturbances in their daily light/dark cycle that were designed to simulate jet-lag.
Nearly all life on Earth has an internal circadian body clock that keeps us ticking on a 24-hour cycle, synchronising a variety of bodily functions such as sleeping and eating with the cycle of light and dark in a solar day. When we travel to a different time zone our body clock eventually adjusts to the local time. However this can take up to one day for every hour the clock is shifted, resulting in several days of fatigue and discombobulation.
In mammals, the circadian clock is controlled by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which pulls every cell in the body into the same biological rhythm. It receives information from a specialised system in the eyes, separate from the mechanisms we use to ‘see’, which senses the time of day by detecting environmental light, synchronising the clock to local time. Until now, little was known about the molecular mechanisms of how light affects activity in the SCN to ‘tune’ the clock and why it takes so long to adjust when the light cycle changes.
To investigate this, the Oxford University team led by Dr Stuart Peirson and Professor Russell Foster, used mice to examine the patterns of gene expression in the SCN following a pulse of light during the hours of darkness. They identified around 100 genes that were switched on in response to light, revealing a sequence of events that act to retune the circadian clock. Amongst these, they identified one molecule, SIK1, that terminates this response, acting as a brake to limit the effects of light on the clock. When they blocked the activity of SIK1, the mice adjusted faster to changes in light cycle.
Dr Peirson explains: “We’ve identified a system that actively prevents the body clock from re-adjusting. If you think about, it makes sense to have a buffering mechanism in place to provide some stability to the clock. The clock needs to be sure that it is getting a reliable signal, and if the signal occurs at the same time over several days it probably has biological relevance. But it is this same buffering mechanism that slows down our ability to adjust to a new time zone and causes jet lag.”
Disruptions in the circadian system have been linked to chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as weakened immunity to infections and impaired cognition. More recently, researchers are uncovering that circadian disturbances are a common feature of several mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.