Jet lag which is scientifically referred to as desynchronosis, which is a condition seen in people traveling by air across different time zones. Basically, jet lag results from confusion of the body’s internal clock by the external factor. The more you cross the times zones, the more serious symptoms of jet lag will be.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not as a result of the length of the flight. In fact, traveling for 10 hours from a location in Europe to Kenya (North to South) may not cause jet lag. However, a 5-hour flight from the east to the West of the US will result in jet lag. It is mostly experienced when you travel from East to West. It is also worth noting that crossing the International Date Line does not lead to jet lag.
Jet Lag: How it occurs
Sleep is controlled by the sleep/wake cycle or the circadian rhythm which takes 24 hours. When the body is exposed to light, the levels of the hormone melatonin drop but they increase with exposure to darkness. The hormone melatonin results in a drop in body temperature and drowsiness in preparation for sleep.
When crossing to new time zones, the circadian cycle that controls the production of the above hormones is slow to adjust. It is literally left behind by a few days. Before the body’s clock synchronizes with the external clock, the following symptoms of jet lag will be seen:
- Short term depression.
- Disorientation and general confusion.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhea.
Basically, the symptoms are similar to those experienced by a person who has not slept for a few days.
Jet lag: Coping Tips
Try to select a flight that will lead to an early evening arrival. Ensure that you stay awake up to around 10pm local time. If you arrive early, try to resist the urge to sleep. If you have to sleep, do not sleep for more than 2 hours.
- Give “clues” to your body about what is about to happen by going to bed early a few days before traveling eastwards. Go to bed late if you will be traveling westwards.
- Prepare psychologically by changing your watch to your destination’s time zone.
- Heavy meals should be avoided up arrival to the new place though a snack is okay.
- Get exposed to daylight.
- Give yourself a few days to rest before embarking on your daily activities in the new destination.
The insomnia associated with jet lag can be exaggerated by stress. A type of stress called the First Night Effect is common among travelers. The First Night Effect is seen in people trying to sleep in a new environment. Here are some tips to help you to cope with First Night Effect and jet lag:
- Bring a few things that will remind you of home to the new destination I.e. Family photo, mug, pillow or bed sheets.
- Take a few sleeping pills to help you cope with the first few days.
- Jet lag is reduced to large extent and doing sleeping habits that you use to do before sleeping in your previous destination.
- Take melatonin supplements.