Sleep Disorders: Jet Lag

What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag, or dysrhythmia, occurs when the body clock is not synchronized with an air traveler’s new time zone, causing a disruption of more than 50 physiological and psychological rhythms. Studies show that jet lag worsens with age, particularly after age 50. Until recently, jet lag was dismissed as merely an unpleasant side-effect of air travel. New research suggests that it also causes memory loss, shrinkage of parts of the brain, negative side effects on blood pressure, and in one study has been implicated in the incidence of cancer.

The common symptoms of Jet Lag are fatigue, poor concentration, trouble sleeping, irritability, minor depression, altered estimation of time and distance, and digestive problems. The symptoms are at their worst in the first two days after crossing three or more time zones. The general rule is that, without any specialized treatment, adjustment time takes about a day for each time zone crossed. However, if left untreated, two or three weeks may be needed to completely realign all rhythms correctly.

Symptoms of Jet Lag occur due to an upset of the human ‘body clock’, caused by a change in a normal sleeping and waking schedule. The human ‘body clock’ is a complex internal mechanism that serves to regulate our body’s functions over time. It is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a tiny cluster of nerve cells in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. This ‘body clock’ helps regulate breathing and heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, hormone production, and other vital bodily functions. Flying over multiple time zones, usually three or more, either east or west will upset the body clock, forcing the body to readjust its normal schedule of sleeping and waking, temperature control, digestion, and more.

Studies now show that properly timed light supplements can help to reset the body clock in about two days.

Tips to Reduce Jet Lag

You can minimize jet lag by changing your behavior before, during and after you travel:

  • Get up and go to bed earlier for 3 days prior to an eastward trip and later for a westward one.
  • Change your watch to your destination time zone as soon as you board your plane.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages on your flight, but do drink plenty of other fluids.
  • Sleep as much as you can during a long flight, even if you don’t feel sleepy. You’ll feel much more refreshed and ready to slip into the new time zone.
  • Sleep medication taken on a long flight may help you feel more rested when you land. Some people feel worse, though, especially if the trip is less than 5 hours long.
  • Book a flight that arrives in the late afternoon. After you land, stay up until 10 p.m. local time. If you land earlier in the day, nap in the early afternoon, but not for more than 2 hours.
  • When you arrive eat only a snack, not a big meal. The type of food you eat doesn’t affect jet lag. Try to adopt a usual breakfast-lunch-dinner meal schedule as soon as you arrive.
  • Get out in the sunlight or bright light as much as possible.
  • Exercise early in the day, not right before bedtime.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within 3 to 4 hours of bedtime. Both can interfere with sleep.
  • Use earplugs and eye shades to help you sleep.
  • If possible, stay in the same hotel or same area as on prior trips. Familiarity helps with sleep and overall orientation.

Literature concerning Jet Lag that is distributed by MRC Healthcare, Inc. is offered for information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a healthcare provider.