Long-distance travel can be glamorous, but jet lag is an unpleasant result of time spent in far-away lands. it can ruin the beginning and end of a holiday and make business travel a feat of endurance.
The signs will be familiar – extreme tiredness during the day, sleep disturbance at night, digestive problems and loss of appetite. These are the symptoms of jet lag, experienced while your internal body clock adapts to being in a different time zone.
But why does jet lag happen, what does it do to the body, and what can you do to avoid the worst symptoms?
What causes jet lag?
All of our body’s functions have their own internal clocks (known as circadian rhythms). These are controlled by a ‘master’ 24-hour clock in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
This master clock produces the hormone melatonin when it gets dark to make us feel drowsy and control our body temperature during sleep. So when we fly to a different time zone with different times for light and dark, these clocks go out of sync. The body has to try and catch up and establish its natural rhythm of eating, sleeping, and being awake – and this can take time.
According to one study, the air pressure inside the aircraft decreases oxygen levels in the blood, making you feel uncomfortable and more jet lagged. As you get older, jet lag is likely to hit you harder and recovery may take a bit longer.
How to cope with jet lag
In most cases, the symptoms pass after a few days without the need for treatment. Here are some practical steps you can take during your journey to ease the effects:
On the plane
- Set your watch to your destination’s time zone. If it’s night there, try to sleep – it it’s day, try to stay awake.
- Sip water regularly before, during and after your flight to stay hydrated.
- Avoid alcohol or caffeine a few hours before you plan to sleep.
When you arrive
- Eat and sleep at the correct times for your new time zone.
- Avoid napping even if you’re tired after a long flight.
- Take a walk or have a gentle swim. Light activity until bedtime will help your body adjust more quickly – but avoid a stimulating gym session.
- Go outside. Your body will try to set its clock to match the sun’s cycle. Natural daylight will help you adjust to a new routine more quickly than staying inside.
Are there any treatments for jet lag?
The symptoms of jet lag can be treated. Some people find insomnia medicines help them to sleep in different time zones – when your body thinks it’s 10am but it’s actually 10pm, this could help you reset your clock, but these should not be used long-term.
Some research has shown that taking a melatonin supplement could help to combat jet lag and aid sleep. However, there isn’t sufficient clinical evidence yet to say how effective this is, or what the side effects may be for people on blood thinners like warfarin. Melatonin is not currently licensed in the UK for the prevention of jet lag.
Visit LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor’s jet lag clinic for the best advice and treatment for you.