Jet lag disorder
Jet lag disorder
Jet lag, also called jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleep disorder that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones. Jet lag is caused by a disruption to your body's internal clock or circadian rhythms — which tell your body when it's time to be awake and when it's time to sleep. The more time zones crossed, the more likely you are to experience jet lag.
Jet lag can cause daytime fatigue, an unwell feeling, difficulty staying alert and gastrointestinal problems. Jet lag is temporary, but it can significantly degrade your vacation or business travel comfort. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent or minimize jet lag.
Symptoms of jet lag can vary. You may experience only one symptom or multiple symptoms. Jet lag symptoms may include:
Symptoms worse the farther you travel
When to see a doctor
A disruption to your circadian rhythms
The influence of sunlight
Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere
Factors that increase the likelihood you'll experience jet lag include:
Treatments and drugs
Jet lag usually doesn't require treatment. However, if you're a frequent traveler continually bothered by jet lag, your doctor may prescribe medications or light therapy.
These medications may help you sleep during your flight and for several nights afterward. Side effects are uncommon, but may include nausea, vomiting, amnesia, sleepwalking, confusion and morning sleepiness. Although these medications appear to help sleep duration and quality, they may not diminish daytime symptoms of jet lag.
Light therapy can help ease that transition. It involves exposing your eyes to an artificial bright light or lamp that simulates sunlight for a specific and regular amount of time during the time when you are meant to be awake. This may be useful, for example, if you are a business traveler and are frequently indoors — away from natural sunlight — during the day in a new time zone. Light therapy comes in a variety of forms including a light box that sits on a table, a desk lamp that may blend in better in an office setting, a light visor that you wear on your head, and a dawn simulator that gradually makes a room brighter — simulating sunrise — which may help you awaken in the morning.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Plan ahead to determine the best times for light exposure on the basis of your origination and destination points and overall sleep habits. An online jet lag calculator may make this task easier.
For example, a poor sleeper traveling from New York to Paris is advised to seek light between 11:20 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on the first day in France and between 8:20 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on the second day. By the third or fourth day, the traveler's internal clock should mesh with the local time. The results are even better if light exposure is combined with exercise such as walking or jogging.
Avoiding light at certain times is every bit as important as taking it in at others. The hypothetical New York to Paris traveler should avoid light from 9:00 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. on day one and from 6:00 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. on day two for best results. In the real world, that can be a challenge. At night, draw the blinds or drapes in your hotel room or use a sleep mask. During the day, dark glasses can help block out light.
The hormone is treated as a darkness signal by your body and generally has the opposite effect of bright light. The time at which you take melatonin is important. If you are trying to reset your body clock to an earlier time, you should take melatonin in the evening. If you are trying to reset your body clock to a later time, melatonin should be taken in the morning.
Small doses — as little as 0.5 milligram — seem just as effective as doses of 5 milligrams or higher, although higher doses have been shown by some studies to be more sleep-promoting. If you do use melatonin, take it 20 minutes before you plan to sleep or ask your doctor about the proper timing. Avoid alcohol when taking melatonin. Side effects are uncommon but may include dizziness, headache and loss of appetite, and possibly nausea and disorientation.
Investigate other remedies
A few basic steps may help prevent jet lag or reduce its effects:
Last Updated: 2010-07-10
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