Helpful hints to treating Jetlag

A simple, at-home treatment – a single light box and the over-the-counter drug melatonin – allows travelers to avoid jet lag by resetting their circadian body clock before crossing several time zones, according to new research being published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. This treatment can also help those with delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), a persistent condition that results from a misalignment between a person’s internal biological clock and the external social environment.

Jetlag is caused by crossing time zones during air travel. It’s really a symptom of the disruption of your body’s circadian (day/night-light/dark) cycle which controls the timing of bodily functions such as when you sleep and eat. Other contributing factors to jetlag are the dry atmosphere of planes and the lack of fresh air, the discomfort from cramped conditions, swelling caused by cabin pressure, food and drink consumed in transit (which can mess up your appetite at destination) and the direction of travel.

One important factor in putting together any plan to combat jet lag is to remember that, while jet lag does not arise until you reach your destination, the seeds of the problem are often laid even before you start your journey. This means that any jet lag treatment plan must look at not just what can be done to reduce the effects of jet lag once you arrive at your destination , but what can be done while you are traveling, and even before you start your journey, to help to reduce its effect, or to even avoid jet lag altogether.

If it is possible to do so, flights should be scheduled so that athletes arrive well in advance of competition. One day for each time zone crossed does leave a cushion of safety, even traveling eastward. The time for adaptation may be shortened by exploiting the external factors that reset biological clocks: rest/exercise, darkness/ light, meals and social influences. The key is to tune in straight away to the external influences of the new environment.

It may be beneficial to shop around to find the most convenient travel schedules. Consider departure from regional airports if appropriate and also alternative carriers. The routines prior to departure, on the plane, and after arrival, can be planned once the itinerary is established. In consequence coping with jet lag will not be the hit or miss affair it might otherwise be.

Do not overeat when you have to sit for long hours in the plane as the food will not digest completely. This may cause acidity, indigestion, vomiting, etc. Protein or carbohydrate rich foods are most preferable as it will help in proper sleep during flight.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. One of melatonin’s key jobs is controlling the body’s circadian rhythm–our internal clock that plays an important role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Melatonin release is tied to the amount of light there is. When it gets dark at night and we turn out the lights, melatonin release is stimulated. Light suppresses melatonin release.

When we cross time zones and are suddenly exposed to excessive light when it’s normally our bedtime (even a three-hour time difference can do it), our melatonin cycles are disrupted and we experience jet lag until our circadian rhythms adjust to the new environment.

By Peter Hutch