Jet lag – those awful words! You can’t keep your eyes open long enough to snap that long-awaited vista. The hotel pool has a lovely swim-up bar, but you’d rather curl up in the room and sleep for hours. Most travelers have had at least one instance of this annoying condition while on vacation. Beating jet lag will give you back valuable time to enjoy your time away. Jet lag is a crafty thief. The groggy, sleepy, grumpy, not being able to concentrate on anything more than laying your head down on a pillow feeling steals away precious vacation and travel time.
What you want to do is go out and see the sights of the new place where you’ve just arrived. Instead, your body is telling you in no uncertain terms that you must waste hours sleeping until your body’s inner clock rights itself.
Sometimes jet lag presents itself during the night as insomnia. Other daytime symptoms include poor concentration, confusion, hunger at inappropriate times or lack of appetite, and general irritability.
The medical term for jet lag is desynchronosis. But what causes this combination of unpleasant feelings and disorientation? When your body moves faster than your inner clock can keep up – such as flying over several time zones – jet lag can occur. It’s your body’s way of resetting itself to your new surroundings. Typically jet lag is worse when flying from west to east, but for some people it can occur whenever multiple time zones are crossed.
We all agree it’s something we’d rather not deal with, so what can we do to avoid it? As the Travel Pharmacist, I’m often asked how to avoid jet lag or how to tackle it completely once you’ve arrived.
Here are a few tips…
BEATING JET LAG
1. Opt for the red-eye. If possible, schedule your flight so you’re sleeping when your body feels like it should be sleeping. Overnight flights allow more time for the body’s circadian rhythms to adapt.
2. Stay hydrated. Pressurized airplane cabins have the ability to drastically dehydrate the body and when you’re dehydrated, you don’t feel well. Keep sipping water throughout the flight.
3. Start a few days before the trip. If you’re going to be undergoing a long haul flight, it often helps to get your body used to the time zone changes ahead of time. Plan meals and bedtimes around the new time zone. This works especially well for young children who might not understand why they feel so bad after a long plane ride.
4. Avoid caffeine. While it’s tempting to keep the coffee supply coming, caffeine can be both dehydrating and disrupt normal sleep patterns.
5. Sleep on the plane. For this one, some people can and some people can’t. For those that can’t, ask your doctor about a prescription short acting sleep aid to get your body enough rest.
6. Avoid alcohol. Another major actor for dehydration and ruining sleep rhythms.
7. Set your watch to destination time and pretend you’re already there. This works very well for most people to decrease jet lag symptoms. As soon as you’ve on the plane, your watch and your mind are working together to put you in the new time zone.
But what if you’re already suffering from jet lag – is there any hope for relief? Yes!
TREATING JET LAG
1. Try over-the-counter melatonin. Melatonin is naturally secreted in our bodies and helps regulate our circadian rhythms so that we sleep at night. The suggested dose is 3 milligrams of melatonin an hour or two before bedtime at your destination. Then give yourself at least 9-10 hours to rest completely. You may wake earlier, but your body will have gotten the rest it needs.
2. Sunshine. Get outside in the sun as much as possible. Normal daylight will stimulate the body to produce chemicals you need for clearer brain function.
3. Take off your shoes and try earthing. While there isn’t a great deal of science to back this one up, many travelers find that putting one’s bare feet on the ground at your destination will stop jet lag in its’ tracks. It should be the actual ground outside and not a floor, and walking around for a few minutes wiggling your toes in the grass brings even more relief. I haven’t actually tried this one, but imagine it would be lots of fun.
4. Because a big part of jet lag is attributed to the body’s dehydration, sipping an oral re-hydration mixture may be the answer. Chock full of body-soothing electrolytes and salts, a product like RecoverORS can help put you back to normal. I also like RecoverORS to treat traveler’s diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sea sickness, and food poisoning. Overall, it’s a great travel health product to have around.
5. Coffee! The old standby that gets us through so many sleepy afternoons back home may also be helpful for combating daytime jet lag symptoms. The caffeine acts as a stimulant to kick the brain into full-functioning gear. Avoid too much caffeine after 3pm, as it may make it harder to sleep in the evening.
Here’s to Happy, Healthy Travels!
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