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How to take care of jet lag

Besides fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience anxiety, constipation, diarrhoea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, sweating, coordination problems, and even memory loss.…

Besides fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience anxiety, constipation, diarrhoea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, sweating, coordination problems, and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness.

Why does it occur? The cause of jet lag is the inability of the body of a traveller to immediately adjust to the time in a different zone. Thus, when a New Yorker arrives in Paris at midnight Paris time, his or her body continues to operate on New York time. As the body struggles to cope with the new schedule, temporary insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and an impaired ability to concentrate may set in. The changed bathroom schedule may cause constipation or diarrhoea, and the brain may become confused and disoriented as it attempts to juggle schedules.

People flying across only one or two time zones may be able to adjust without noticeable effects of the time change. Those flying across three or more time zones will likely develop noticeable symptoms of jet lag. Generally, the intensity of symptoms varies in relation to the number of time zones crossed and the direction of travel.

How does the body keep time? A tiny part of the brain called the hypothalamus acts like an alarm clock to activate various body functions such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. It also regulates body temperature, blood pressure, and the level of hormones and glucose in the bloodstream. To help the body tell the time of day, fibers in the optic nerve of the eye transmit perceptions of light and darkness to a timekeeping center within the hypothalamus. Thus, when the eye of an air traveller perceives dawn or dusk many hours earlier or later than usual, the hypothalamus may trigger activities that the rest of the body is not ready for, and jet lag occurs.

Does the direction of travel matter? Yes. Travellers flying north or south in the same time zone typically experience the fewest problems because the time of day always remains the same as in the place where the flight originated. These travellers may experience discomfort, but this usually results from confinement in an airplane for a long time or from differences in climate, culture, and diet at the destination location. Time does not play a role.

Travellers flying east, on the other hand, typically experience the most problems because they “lose” time. For example, on an international flight from Washington, D.C., to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a traveller loses eight hours. Meals, sleep, bowel habits, and other daily routines are all pushed ahead eight hours.

Travellers flying west “gain” time and usually have an easier time adjusting than eastward travellers. However, they too experience symptoms of jet lag after landing because they still must adjust to a different schedule.

The following are 12 tips to help travellers minimize the effects of jet lag.

Stay in shape: If you are in good physical condition, stay that way. In other words, long before you embark, continue to exercise, eat right, and get plenty of rest.

Get medical advice:  If you have a medical condition that requires monitoring (such as diabetes or heart disease), consult your physician well in advance of your departure to plan a coping strategy.

Change your schedule:  If your stay in the destination time zone will last more than a few days, begin adjusting your body to the new time zone before you leave.

Avoid alcohol:  Do not drink alcoholic beverages the day before your flight, during your flight, or the day after your flight. These beverages can cause dehydration, disrupt sleeping schedules, and trigger nausea and general discomfort.

Avoid caffeine: Likewise, do not drink caffeinated beverages before, during, or just after the flight. Caffeine can also cause dehydration and disrupt sleeping schedules.

Drink water: Drink plenty of water, especially during the flight, to counteract the effects of the dry atmosphere inside the plane.

Move around on the plane: While seated during your flight, exercise your legs from time to time. Move them up and down and back and forth. Bend your knees. Stand up and sit down. Every hour or two, get up and walk around. Do not take sleeping pills, and do not nap for more than an hour at a time.

Break up your trip: On long flights travelling across eight, 10, or even 12 time zones, break up your trip, if feasible, with a stay in a city about halfway to your destination.

Wear comfortable shoes and clothes:  On a long trip, how you feel is more important than how you look. So, wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Avoid items that pinch, restrict, or chafe. When selecting your trip outfit, keep in mind the climate in your destination time zone. Dress for your destination.

Check your accommodations:  Upon arrival, if you are staying at a hotel, check to see that beds and bathroom facilities are satisfactory and that cooling and heating systems are in good working order. If the room is unsuitable, ask for another.

Adapt to the local schedule:  The sooner you adapt to the local schedule, the quicker your body will adjust. Therefore, if you arrive at noon local time (but 6 a.m. your time), eat lunch, not breakfast. During the day, expose your body to sunlight by taking walks or sitting in outdoor cafes.

Use sleeping medications wisely—or not at all : Try to establish sleeping patterns without resorting to pills. However, if you have difficulty sleeping on the first two or three nights, it’s okay to take a mild sedative if your physician has prescribed one. But wean yourself off the sedative as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could become habit-forming.

Culled from: www.medicinenet.com