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February 17, 2017 | Internal Medicine
Does the wanderlust bug frequently bite you? If so, you’re probably very familiar with the phenomenon of desynchronosis — better known as “jet lag.” Although this common sleep disorder is a temporary one, the fatigue and fuzzy-headedness it often causes can put a wrench in your important business trip or long-awaited family vacation.
This physiological condition is classified as a circadian rhythm disorder because it disrupts your body clock – the internal time-keeping system that regulates your sleeping, waking, eating and body temperature over a 24-hour period.
Our circadian rhythms are directly influenced by our exposure to sunlight. When we travel to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms lag behind, remaining on their original biological schedule for several days. Our bodies may think it’s time to sleep when the residents in our new destination are enjoying their morning coffee.
This extremely common sleep disorder affects millions of people every day, reports the National Association of Managed Care Physicians. Additionally:
“People who are already suffering from sleep deprivation or insomnia have been shown to be more likely to experience jet lag, and at a higher degree of intensity.”
“Jet lag” is a relatively new term because people were not able to travel quickly across many times zones until the invention of the jet engine approximately 80 years ago.
Jet lag does not usually occur if you cross just one or two time zones.
Jet lag is usually more severe when you fly east and “lose” time than when you fly west and gain time.
It typically takes about a day to recover for each time zone crossed.
Individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to develop jet lag and experience worse symptoms than those under the age of 30.
Although symptoms vary, they usually occur within a day or two of travel across at least two time zones. Common symptoms include:
You can help minimize the symptoms of jet lag by maintaining your physical fitness level and eating a well-balanced diet. Studies show people who take good care of themselves tend to experience fewer and lighter symptoms. Other strategies include:
Prepare your body for the time change by getting up and going to bed earlier several days prior to an eastward trip and later for a westward trip.
Stay hydrated before, during, and after your flight by drinking plenty of water. This combats the lack of humidity in plane cabins.
Avoid the dehydrating and sleep-disrupting effects of alcohol and caffeine.
If it’s nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the plane using earplugs, eye masks and headphones. If it’s daytime where you’re headed, stay awake during your flight.
Once you land, time your meals and your sleep patterns with the locals.
If you’re a frequent traveler who always struggles with jet lag and can’t find relief with other treatments, your internist may prescribe sleep medications or light therapy.
If it’s not possible to receive exposure to natural sunlight in your new location, you can use an artificial bright lamp, light box or light visor to help synchronize your body clock. Light therapy helps ease your transition to a new time zone by simulating sunlight for a specific and regular amount of time during the time when you’re meant to be awake.
Melatonin supplementation is a very effective jet lag treatment and can help you fall asleep when you wouldn’t normally be resting. Ask your doctor about the right dosage and timing for your specific travel needs.
If your life finds you flying often and battling jet lag, you may benefit from seeing a specialist. Revere Health’s Internal Medicine specialists provide health management counseling and care for a variety of diseases and conditions, including sleep disorders. We can help you explore a number of preventive options during travel to help return you to restful and restorative sleep on the road.
Internal Medicine Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.