Jetlag, one of the downsides of travel
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With the summer holidays rapidly approaching, this week we’re going to focus on something that can really take the shine off your first few precious days away. And we’re not talking about the mayhem before you leave home, the joys of the airport or lottery of who you’re going to be lucky enough to sit next to on the plane (!). If you’ve ever travelled long haul, you’ll know all about it. Jet lag.
Jet lag – Flight Fatigue or Desynchronosis, if you’d like to get technical – occurs when we travel across different time zones. It means that our internal body clock becomes out of synch with local clock time.
While this may not sound like much of a problem, it can be, as our body clock controls many different physiological processes. For example, when to go to sleep, wake up and are hungry as well as many other processes we’re unaware of. These include the release of hormones, regulation of body temperature and detoxification.
As a result, the first few days away can be marred by disturbed sleep – or insomnia – irritability, headaches, poor concentration, digestive problems and low energy levels. The good news is that these are only temporary and soon disappear as the body gradually adjusts to different times of light / darkness. Within a day or two we’re back to normal and in synch with local clock time.
The severity of jet lag – and length of time it takes to adjust – depend on the number of time zones crossed AND the direction is which you’re travelling. While longer journeys tend to be more tiring than shorter ones, it’s always the number of time zones that are crossed which is the determining factor, rather than the length of the journey.
It also tends to take longer to recover from jetlag when you’re flying eastbound than if you’re travelling westbound, as you “lose” time by travelling against the normal day / night pattern. This has been confirmed by researchers and is one of the reasons that many long haul flights from the UK to Asia / Australia leave at night, as retaining a normal period of sleep during the journey helps people to adjust more quickly on arrival.
While frequent travellers will say that they adapt more quickly to the new time zone, the body never quite gets used to drastic changes in time. This means that flight crews are particularly susceptible to longer term health problems as a result of these changes. In addition, the body finds it harder to adapt with age.
There are also a number of other things that can make in jet lag worse, such as:
The stress of travel – we all know about that one(!).
Low oxygen levels on board the plane causing headaches and lethargy.
Changes in cabin pressure, with popping ears, toothaches and headaches. Chewing gum or yawning both encourage the ears to “pop” and so reduce pressure.
Recycled warm air, which is dehydrating and comes with all sorts of other unwanted things too (!).
Restricted seats and lack of movement, leading to swollen legs and ankles, not to mention the now well known risk of DVT.
Increased radiation levels.
What can be done to help?
Move over to the new time zone a couple of days before you leave, adjusting your bed and meal times accordingly. If you’re travelling for work, consider leaving a couple of days early to give yourself time to adjust before you start work.
Drink plenty of water, as dehydration makes jet lag much worse. And this also means avoiding tea, coffee and alcohol, all of which are dehydrating.
Keep meals small and light, so you don’t cause your body extra work while it’s dealing with the stresses of travel and adjusting to a different time zone.
Get up and move around regularly during the flight, not forgetting some ankle stretches or rotations to help reduce fluid build up and puffiness in the lower legs. When you arrive get active. Go outside for a walk to stretch your legs and get some fresh air into your lungs.
Vitamin C can help reduce the symptoms of jet lag so that you feel better more quickly.
Melatonin is often mentioned in connection with jet lag, but can also cause problems, so isn’t recommended as a supplement.
When you arrive get outside, regardless of whether it’s light or dark, as this helps to start resetting your body clock. If you’re very tired, have a short nap but then stay up until “normal” bedtime for that time zone.
And here’s the difficult bit, set your alarm as close to sunrise as possible and go outside into natural daylight. This stimulates melatonin production, which controls your body clock.
If you can, walk barefoot on the ground to help speed the process along, as this also helps ground you to the new time zone.
There are also homeopathic remedies which can help, to find out more please drop us an e mail.
As always, the choice is yours.
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