Going on a flight for a trip to another country sure sounds like a good time especially going there as a holiday trip. Taking flights for a few hours may not sound like a big problem but for the first time, getting on the aeroplane and flying somewhere to different continents may actually experience jet lag. We often hear or come across the word “jet lag” coming from someone who has just come back from an overseas trip. If you ask a doctor, you may be surprised to know that jet lag is actually a medical condition but many often take it for granted as it often results in temporary issues.
Jet lag is a sleep disorder in which there is a mismatch with the body’s natural daily sleep rhythm and the external environment as a result of rapid travel across multiple time zones. It is also known as circadian desynchrony. In simple words, jet lag is a sleeping problem that occurs when a person travels across more than 3 time zones but may also affect anyone who travels across multiple time zones.
The body can adjust naturally to 1-1.5 changes in time zones per day but symptoms typically arise when a person crosses 2 or more 3 time zones in one day. The more time zones an individual crosses in a short period of time, the higher the chances for severe jet lag symptoms. Some research suggests that jet lag symptoms become more apparent in older people. This could be because of the changes in circadian rhythm with age. Although jet lag may seem like a normal occurrence in those travelling in long flights, not everyone gets jet lag. Around 1 in 3 people are expected to experience jet lag symptoms.
To better understand how jet lag affects a person, it is best to understand a bit more about circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm can be considered as a type of internal ‘body clock’ set by the hormone known as melatonin. This system regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in the environment. Thus, when there are changes in the changes of light in the environment due to the time zone changes, it will also affect the melatonin function. This will lead to the disturbed circadian rhythm.
Symptoms of jet lag vary but the 2 symptoms that mainly show jet lag are difficulty sleeping at bedtime and problems waking up in the morning. These two are the main symptoms to be looked out for jet lag. Other symptoms associated are feeling excessive tiredness (fatigue), difficulty concentrating, headaches, feeling low or moody, and irritability. Some people might even experience changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, changes in appetite and an excessive need to urinate at nighttime. Symptoms will gradually get better as the body adjust to the new time zone.
Individuals who regularly experience circadian rhythm disturbances are said to be at higher risk for various health conditions. Thus, it is important for people who experience jet lag to make sure this problem does not continue or constantly affect them. There is no specific treatment or cure for jet lags but there are many things a person can do to help cope with this jet lag issue. The best way to reset the sleep/wake cycle is to go outside and do some exercise in the sunlight. Do ensure the room is as dark as possible when sleeping at night. For the first few days, do take short naps to help stay alert. However, do take note to not take a nap more than 30 minutes and be awake at least 4 hours before bed time. Medicine containing melatonin can help to treat jet lags but do get it from a doctor as only a doctor can tell if the melatonin medicine can really work. Sleeping tablets may be helpful especially in insomnia but it should only be used for a short time and if symptoms are severe.
The best way to tackle jet lags is to manage the targeted factors contributed to it. This includes making adjustments to time for sleep, meals and exercise. Here are some tips that can help minimise the effect of jet lag:
1) Consider scheduling travel to arrive at your destination at least 2 days before an important event as this will allow the body to adjust to time.
2) Eat smaller meals just before travel and when in flight to avoid stomach problems related to jet lags.
3) Keep active by stretching and regularly walking around the cabin during in-flight.
4) Follow the sleep and waking routine of the destination when arriving.
5) Avoid alcohol or too much caffeine as it often causes sleep disturbance.
6) Change sleep schedule to the new time zone as quickly as possible.
7) Go outside during the day according to the destination time.
8) For shorter trips such as 2 to 3 days, it is best to not change eating and sleeping time to a new time zone to avoid needing to change schedule again when going back home.