Jet Lag: Feeling Low After Flying High

Jet lag occurs when the body’s internal clock is out of sync with the day-night cycle at the destination time zone, effected by a traveler crossing several time zones rapidly. The severity of jet lag increases with the number of time zones crossed. 

Eastward travel is associated with difficulty falling asleep at the new bedtime —and a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.  Westward travel is more likely to cause early evening sleepiness and predawn awakening.

Symptoms

In addition to sleep disturbances, jet lag symptoms include

  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Poor coordination
  • Impaired thinking
  • Difficulty concentrating

Attenuation: Before Departure & En Route

Get 2 – 3 full nights of uninterrupted sleep before you depart

  • When travelling eastward: shift your normal bedtime and wake up time by 1 hour earlier, and then seek natural light in the morning, even if it is cloudy.
  • When travelling westward: shift your bedtime and wake up time by 1 hour later. Seek natural light in the afternoon.

Melatonin supplements are purported to benefit some travelers crossing five or more time zones. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 0.5 to 5 mg. at bedtime beginning three to four days before departure. (Melatonin is not recommended for those with epilepsy, for those taking warfarin or other oral anticoagulant drugs, or for children.)

Eat small meals and drink plenty of fluid during your flight, and limit salt, caffeine, and alcohol.

Recovery: On Arrival

It takes about one day for each time zone crossed to fully adjust to the destination time zone. People older than 60 and those who have gone without sleep may feel the effects more acutely and need longer time to recover.

Although inconvenient, sleep schedule adjustments are recommended for overcoming jet lag. For some individuals, aerobic exercise after arrival is also helpful.

According to recent studies, special diets to reset your body’s circadian rhythm (24-hour clock) have little benefit.

For more information:

Public Health Agency of Canada

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

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Since 1936, International Medical Services (IMS) has strategically promoted safety and travel illness prevention. We have extensive experience sending short and long term expatriates to every continent and major travel destination (including Antarctica).

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