Frequent journeys by air have become a significant part of our lives and a necessity of the modern day. People often fly to different countries for work, education or simply for a vacation these days. The problem of jet lag is one that is encountered by most travellers who cruise across time zones. It's worth taking a while to understand how it can be handled effectively, to transform flying into a much pleasing experience.
What is jet lag?
A sleep disorder, also called desynchronosis that can affect those who travel quickly across multiple time zones. Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder. It occurs when the body's internal clock is out of sync with cues from a new time zone.
• Usually self-treatable
• Usually self-diagnosable
• Lab tests or imaging not required
• Short-term and resolves within days to weeks.
How does it feel like?
As sleep-wake patterns are disturbed, a person may feel drowsy, tired, irritable, lethargic, and slightly disoriented. The more time zones a person crosses in a short period, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be.
How common is it?
More than 1 million cases are reported per year in India
What causes jet lag?
Jet lag happens because rapid travel alters our circadian rhythm -- the biological clock that helps control the sleep and wake patterns of a person.
“Cues such as light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our circadian rhythm,” says Allison T. Siebern, PhD, a fellow in the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center. “When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get on the rhythm of the new time zone.”
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet, lower oxygen in the blood, making passengers feel uncomfortable and dehydrated. These aspects also aggravate the issue.
People don’t tend to move around as much as usual on an airplane. “These can increase symptoms of jet lag and further disrupt your circadian rhythm from re-synchronizing,” says Siebern.
Can we overcome jet lag?
Jet lag cannot be eliminated altogether but there are several ways of reducing its effects. Travellers who take medication like insulin according to a strict timetable should seek medical advice from the medical practitioner before their journey.
How long does it take to recover?
In general, the body will adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two time zones per day. For example, if you crossed six time zones, the body will typically adjust to this time change in three to five days. Jet lag is temporary, so the prognosis is excellent and most people will recover within a few days.
Why is jet lag worse from east to west?
Travelling east causes more problems than travelling west because the body clock has to be advanced, which is more difficult for the majority of humans than delaying it. Most people have an endogenous circadian rhythm that is roughly a 24-hour cycle, so lengthening a day is less troublesome than shortening it.
Can jet lag make you feel sick?
“Exhaustion can absolutely make someone feel nauseous and even lead to vomiting. Sometimes, the body responds to fatigue -- especially extreme fatigue -- with symptoms of nausea. Stomach upset, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, can also be symptoms of jet lag,” says Dr. Rachel Vreeman, assistant professor at the Indiana University of Medicine.
Is it life threatening?
According to researchers at the University of Virginia, jetlag could kill mice on which experiments were conducted. The study does raise some red flags for humans, too. The key finding — to which many frequent travelers can attest — is that travelling across time zones frequently hits health hard, leading to further complications if not addressed adequately.
Does everybody feel jet lag?
Jet lag is, simply, a breakdown in the biological rhythm. It's quite natural that most people tend to be affected though the severity may vary and exceptions are possible. Additionally, some people's circadian rhythms take longer than others to reset. In all, however, the maximum amount of jet lag one could potentially endure is plus or minus 12 hours.
What vitamins help coping with jet lag?
Vitamin B-12 is a natural way to keep the body alert and energized. Vitamin D, natural or supplemental, are related to the melatonin levels in your body—a hormone that helps prepare the body ready for sleep.
How do you help a baby with a jet lag?
Try to go to bed when the kid dozes off, so the parent also can get a few hours of sleep before the baby's jet lag tells him to wake up. Once the baby is up, get up with him. Don't try to just pacify, force him back to sleep or ignore. The best action would be to wake up and support the jet lagged baby.
Does jet lag affect digestion?
Not only does jet lag impact the wake and sleep cycle of the body but it can influence the natural digestion process, a crucial function of the body that converts food into essential nutrients and eliminates unused waste. When a person suffers from jet lag, he may experience constipation, diarrhea, and even nausea.
Is there a treatment?
It’s usually not necessary to get treatment for jet lag, but if coping strategies don’t work, the doctor may prescribe or suggest medications to be taken temporarily to help a person sleep or stay alert when necessary. Also for frequent fliers, if jet lag is a serious problem, consider seeing a sleep specialist -- a physician or psychologist who has specialized training in sleep medicine.
• Simulate and plan the new schedule well in advance before leaving. Try moving the bedtime and mealtimes as per the new time zone.
• Adapt to the new schedule while in flight. Adjust the time in the watch before reaching the destination for a psychological acceptance of the situation.
• Arrive early at the new place to give sufficient time before any event, for the mind and body to adjust.
• Stay hydrated by drinking pure water and avoid alcohol or caffeine
• Move around, walk and do light stretching while flying that can help relieving the strain of the journey.
• Consider melatonin or other medication to aid sleep but only under the supervision of a doctor.
• Try natural light therapy by exposing the body to natural sunlight to regulate circadian rhythm. On westward journeys getting morning sunlight and while on eastward flight exposure to evening sunlight may help.
• Take a nice bath before bedtime which could soothe the sore muscles and bring the body temperature down for a smooth sleep
• Minimise sleep distractions like harsh sounds, shining lights or cellphones that may delay sleep. Using eye masks or earplugs can be useful.
• Eat sensibly by avoiding high carb or fatty diet before hitting the bed as it might disrupt sleep.
(The author is a Director, TGL Foundation, Chairperson CSA, Editor- The Intl Journal, Sr Dir, FWO)