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Fighting Jet Lag

How to Avoid Getting Caught in Time Zone Changes

Anyone who has ever flown is likely to have experienced some degree of time zone change disorder, commonly known as jet lag. Until recently, jet lag was not treated as a medical condition. It is now included as one of the 84 known or suspected sleep disorders and affects millions of people each year, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Jet lag occurs when the body's biological clock is out of sync with local time. When traveling to a new time zone, our bodies are slow to adjust and remain on their original biological schedule for several days. The result is that we feel excessively sleepy during the day or wide awake at night.

People may experience jet lag in varying degrees. In general, the severity of jet lag symptoms is directly related to the number of time zones crossed by a flight. Jet lag symptoms typically last longer following eastward flights. Flying east usually results in difficulty initiating sleep, where as flying west results in early morning awakenings. All age groups are susceptible, but individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to develop jet lag than those under the age of 30. Also, individual susceptibility tends to vary considerably and it is possible that pre-existing sleep deprivation will intensify jet lag.

Symptoms of jet lag include:

  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Nighttime alertness (insomnia)
  • Mood disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • Mood disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

Researchers believe that gradually adjusting your bedtime to coincide with the time zone of your destination in the days before travel may prevent or reduce jet lag. On average, it takes about a day for each hour of time zone change to recover from jet lag.

In addition to adjusting your sleep schedule, prescription sleep aids may help reduce the amount of sleep lost as a result of jet lag. Over the counter sleep aids and alcohol should be avoided. Non-prescription sleep aids can cause sleepiness long after the intended sleep time and exacerbate jet lag. Alcohol can disrupt sleep. Daytime sleepiness can be treated with caffeine, as long as it is not taken in the few hours before bedtime.