Minimizing Jet Lag
Jet lag occurs when travelling over one or more time zones. When flying eastbound, it causes problems falling asleep and difficulty waking up in the morning. When we fly west, we have difficulty staying awake in the evening and will wake early. Eastbound travel can take longer to adjust to than flying westbound. Jet lag affects people of all ages, fitness and those who travel frequently.
Travelling through more than one time zone can throw off our body’s inner clock (circadian rhythm) decreasing our mental capabilities and causing digestive disturbances. Headache, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhea and sleeping difficulties are common. It takes time for our bodies to adjust to the new time zone. Thankfully, jet lag is temporary and only lasts three to four days.
Tips to minimize jet lag
Before you depart
- When flying eastbound, go to bed one hour earlier each night a few days before departure.
- For westbound destinations go to bed one hour later for a few nights before departure.
- Choosing a flight that arrives at your final destination in late afternoon or early evening can also be helpful as you will only need to stay awake for a few hours after arrival.
- wear comfortable clothing with footwear you can remove easily
When you’re flying
- Change your watch to the local time of your destination
- If it is nighttime at your destination sleep on the plane or read, listen to quiet music
- Try to stay awake if it is daytime at your destination
- avoid caffeine, and alcohol
- drink water to thirst
When you arrive
DO NOT NAP! While this may be tempting it is best to adapt to the new time zone as soon as possible. If you must have a rest, sleep in the early afternoon for 20-30 minutes and set an alarm to ensure you wake up. Sleeping during the day for long periods will prolong jet lag.
- Go to bed at the same time as you would at home and get up at your usual time
- use ear plugs to sleep and try to make the room dark and comfortable
- Eat small meals at local meal times
- avoid caffeine after mid-day and drinking alcohol
- expose yourself to natural light or sunshine during the day
For adults, over the counter sleep aids can assist with jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates our sleep and waking cycles. It is also available in pill form at your local pharmacy or health food shop.
According to Bernice Li, Bsc. (Pharm), RPh Pharmacist at The Pharmacy Kitsilano, taking 3-5 mg of melatonin one day before you depart and continuing for 3-5 days after you arrive is a possible safe option for reducing jet lag. Currently studies are inconclusive on the effectiveness of melatonin but is a viable option for adults. Bernice continues, ‘melatonin will not work immediately but it is a safe alternative to try.’
Although there are prescription and other over the counter sleep aids available we recommend you discuss these options with your family doctor.
Travellers taking insulin may need to adjust their insulin schedule during travel and when you arrive at your destination.
Jet Lag can be distracting but it will resolve. The excitement of travelling to a new destination for pleasure can make jet lag much easier to endure.