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If you are a person that travels often, especially to a place with a different time zone, you should be familiar with jet lag and how disturbing it can be. Jet lag is also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis. It usually happens when people travel rapidly across time zones.
You should probably notice by now that you do not really experience jet lag when you travel between the north and south, e.g. Malaysia to China or vice versa. Besides, flying eastward will make you experience much worse jet lag compared to flying westward. This is because travelling to the west prolongs the body clock experience of its normal day-night cycle. To add on to that, the normal tendency of the body clock in most of us is slightly longer than 24 hours. Travelling eastwards, however, runs in direct opposition to the body clock as it requires you to stay awake shorter than what your body had expected.
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Jet lag happens as your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed, which is usually regulated by the circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that the condition actually results from an imbalance in our body’s natural “biological clock” caused by travelling to different time zones. These rhythms are measured by the distinct rise and fall of body temperature, plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. The body is synchronised to night and day by the action of sunlight through brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, especially melatonin. Many bodily processes are timed on this 24-hour physiological ‘clock’. These include temperature, hormones, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and brain states.
Overcoming jet lag usually takes up at least a day or two, which during this interval, the hypothalamus will pick up the new light cues and reset the clock in our bodies. The older a person is, the more severe their symptoms will normally be, and the longer it will take for their body clock to get back into sync. Children usually have milder symptoms, and they recover faster.
The symptoms of jet lag include:
Impaired judgement and decision making
Make sure to have sufficient sleep
Try to accommodate different plans for the direction that you are heading towards. Prepare for a long flight eastward, by getting up and going to bed early for several days before, and for a westward flight, get up and go to bed later
During a flight
Stay hydrated and limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks
Wear loose, comfortable clothing
Take some walk around the cabin once in a while if possible
Take a nap in the most comfortable situation you can make yourself by wearing earplugs, eye mask and a pillow supporting your neck and head)
Expose yourself to daylight or bright light. This helps in resetting your body clock.
Drink caffeinated drinks in moderation during the day
Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks for a few hours prior to sleep at night
Try to mimic your usual bedtime routine
Use relaxation techniques
Image credit: Cleveland Clinic's Health Essentials
The use of medication in jet lag is controversial and should be discussed with your doctor. There have been reports of some benefits from either melatonin or very short-acting sedatives. The use of melatonin has been shown to help some people adjust faster to changes in time zone, but none prove it is safe to take for a long periods of time.
It is important to note that using sleeping tablets during your flight is not recommended in case of an emergency.
Takeaways: All in all, it is still the safest and best proven way to strategise some lifestyle changes prior to, during and post-flight to combat jet lag in the best way without harming our own bodies. Talk to your doctor if you find that disturbing to your life and has no improvements despite efforts being made.
Jet lag - Better Health Channel. Accessed September 08, 2020. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/jet-lag
Jet Lag - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis - MedBroadcast.com. Accessed September 08, 2020. https://medbroadcast.com/condition/getcondition/jet-lag
Jet Lag: Causes, Treatment, and Tips for Prevention. Healthline. Published July 27, 2020. Accessed September 08, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/jet-lag
Jet lag: Meaning, symptoms, prevention tips, and more. Access September 08, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165339
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