Travelling abruptly across different time zones can cause jet lag. Jet lag can make travellers tired, sleepy, irritable, anxious and less able to make decisions, recall information or concentrate. Appetite and bowel habits may also be affected. Insomnia, headaches, dizziness, nausea, clumsiness and feeling unwell are also possible symptoms.
A major reason for the jet lag is because the abrupt changes in time zones can upset our natural circadian rhythm. This is the cycle to which many of our bodily processes are all timed. Our 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.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for jet lag, but there are ways to minimise the effects. Firstly, try to get adequate sleep in the lead-up to travel, since an existing sleep deficit will worsen subsequent jet lag. Set your watch to the time of your destination when you board your plane and aim to get in sync with the new time zone with your sleep and eating patterns while in flight. Minimising intake of caffeine and alcohol and ensuring you are well hydrated before and during the flight can help. Small, frequent, light and nutritious meals and regular physical activity such as walking around the cabin may also be beneficial.
Interestingly, your circadian rhythm (body clock) is less confused if you travel westward (versus eastward). This is because travelling west ‘prolongs’ the body clock’s experience of its normal day-night cycle (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. If you suffer badly from jet lag, it may be worthwhile considering a westerly travel route if possible. Also if your trip involves travelling across multiple time zones (say, more than five) consider a stopover.
When you arrive at your destination, if it is daytime when you arrive, go outside and expose yourself to daylight. This stimulus will help reset your body clock by regulating melatonin release). Although you may feel like going straight to bed, try to stay awake and ideally be somewhat physically active. It is also important to plan your activities around the fact that it may take a few days (and sometimes more than a week) to fully adjust.
It is not recommended to use sleeping tablets as they tend to disrupt normal sleep cycles and may prolong jet lag. Melatonin has been shown to help with the symptoms of jet lag. A homeopathic formulation of Melatonin is Bioglan Melatonin. However, talk to your doctor about whether melatonin supplements are right for you and which one. Vitamin B formulations may assist in the management of jet lag by assisting with the stress response. You can try Ethical Nutrients Super B Complex Anti Stress Formula or Blackmores On-the-Go Mega B Complex Travel Pack.