What is Jet Lag?
How wonderful it is to visit your sister living in Mexico after two long years. And what about that work trip to LA? Since the invention of the aeroplane, air travel is the fastest and most convenient way to travel long distances in a short duration.
They say, “A stitch in time saves nine” but there is one problem that cannot be warded off immediately. It is called as Desynchronosis or in simpler terms, Jet jag syndrome.
We all have an innate clockwork mechanism, which determines - when we sleep or wake up; how we perform our activities during the day, etc. This is called the circadian rhythm. This clock is regulated by the light stimulus from the retina of the eye that transmits a signal to the hypothalamus in the brain. An absence of stimulus causes the pineal gland to release melatonin which induces sleep.
A disturbance in the sleep-wake-cycle occurs when there is a shifting of time zones without allowing the body to adjust to the new environment. This inability to match up to the sudden shift in external clock timings causes jet lag. Crossing the International Date Line (IDL) makes us gain time while moving from left to right, or lose time when traveling from left to right. Also, cabin pressure being lower at high altitudes during a flight may cause some symptoms of jet lag.
The common symptoms of jet lag include:
- Disturbed sleep: There may be daytime somnolence, insomnia or altered sleep timings and poor quality of sleep.
- Daytime fatigue: The individual may not be able to do basic things, which were earlier possible.
- Inability to concentrate: This may severely affect work.
- Gastro-intestinal symptoms: It can range from diarrhea to constipation.
- Chronic jetlag: In conditions of chronic jet lag, people have leptin-resistant obesity, precipitation of mood episodes in people with mood disorders, prone to road traffic accidents, prone to faults at work.
- Mood disorders: Deprivation of REM sleep causes tiredness, irritability and impaired judgment.
There are various reasons, which increase the risk or aggravate jet lag:
- Number of time zones crossed
- Flying east and losing time
- Frequent flying (Pilots, flight attendants, business travelers, etc.)
- Old age
What are the Other Conditions Similar to Jet Lag?
Persistent sleepiness occurs in:
- Lack of sleep:
- Inadequate time in bed
- Extraneous sleep disruption (babies/children)
- Shift work
- Excessive caffeine intake
- Physical illness (pain)
- Medical conditions:
- Sleep apnea is caused by obstruction of the upper airway
- Periodic limb movement disorder
- Narcolepsy a neurological sleep disorder
- Idiopathic hypersomnolence
- Neurological lesion in hypothalamus or upper brain stem
Gradually adjust sleep schedule
Sleep schedule must be adjusted according to the time zone we are traveling to, by going to sleep earlier in case of losing time and vice versa.
Regulate sunlight exposure
Sunlight exposure must be regulated according to the pattern required for sleep.
Cut a long trip short
Regular halts and a prolonged journey with time to rest will help the biological clock adjust to the changes in time gradually.
Avoid heavy meals, caffeine or alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and may alter sleep timings and thus should be avoided. Heavy meals, on the other hand, can make you sleepy.
Sleep on the plane if possible
It is advisable to sleep on the plane during long journeys. Earplugs and blindfolds should be used to avoid noise and light. Proper sleep surface is essential to get a sound sleep.
Relax on the first day
It is important to be able to relax and let the body get accustomed to the new environment on the first day after a flight travel. Jumping to work on the very first day after a long journey may produce poor results at work.
Spend time in the sun
It is essential to spend time in the sun as a part of light therapy Try to get sleep according to local time. Drinking plenty of water prevents dehydration, and alcohol or caffeine must be avoided. Short naps for 15-30 minutes can be taken if you feel sleepy.
It involves exposing the eyes to artificial bright light simulating sunlight, thus keeping the person awake. Jurvelin H, Jokelainen J, Takala T et al. have found that transcranial bright light (TBL) which is sent via ear canals can also alleviate the symptoms of jet lag in a similar fashion.
Melatonin & Sleeping Pills
Jet lag pills are short acting sleeping pills that can be used to induce sleep at the proper time in case of insomnia during the night. Melatonin is found to be an effective treatment. It aids sleep by acting as a darkness signal. Dose can range from 0.5-5 mg although higher doses show better results. It should be taken 30 minutes before sleep.
Some studies indicate that certain dietary habits can help regulate sleeping habits. For example, high protein diet helps you stay alert, whereas, high carbohydrate diet makes you feel sleepy. Thus, a protein-rich breakfast can help us stay awake during the day after reaching the destination. There is also a fad related with jet lag that is - alternating days of feasting and fasting to regulate sleep schedule.
- Transcranial bright light and symptoms of jet lag: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25945550)