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April 2007 Newsletter

Dealing with Jet Lag

Dear Fellow Business Traveler,

I think that most people who travel frequently or have ever flown a long distance have exerienced some level of jet lag.  When it mildly affects your sleep pattern it's not that big a deal.  But, sometimes it can cause serious issues for prolonged periods of time and take a serious toll on the body.  In this month's Newsletter, we talk about how jet lag affects us, what causes it (or makes it worse) and what we can do to help prevent it or get over it.

Be sure to check out our February 2007 Newsletter about International Travel for information about traveling abroad.

To Your Health, 
Healthy Travel Network

squareHow Jet Lag Affects our Health

jet lag also jet·lag
A temporary disruption of bodily rhythms caused by high-speed travel across several time zones typically in a jet aircraft.

If you were to hear that you were suffering from desynchronosis, you might immediately fear the worst.  But this is just a big scientific name for jet lag.  When you travels across many time zones in a relatively short amount of time your body's clock becomes out of sync with their external environment creating the condition we simply know as jet lag. 

The human body operates on its own internal clock known as a circadian rhythm.  The circadian rhythm operates without a clock and takes about 25 hours to complete.  This is what dictates the "wake" and "sleep" patterns in each of us.  During these rhythms, your body temperature changes, getting warmer throughout the day and dropping off late at night based on your established routine in the time zone you live in. 

Depending on which direction you are traveling across times zones your rhythm is affected by either extending your external day or making it shorter.  This becomes a direct conflict with your established rhythm.  By traveling to a location where the pattern of the sun and your established internal pattern are not the same it can be a great shock to the system and a major source of external stress on the body.    

Suffering from jet lag can create feelings of lethargy or being totally drained of energy.  Then, when you would like to be able to rest and sleep, say during external stimuli such as darkness or night, you can quickly become awake or even excited as if it were morning or you consumed a great deal of caffeine.  Jet lag can be a problem for anyone traveling across times zones, but is usually more prevalent in people who have traveled through three or more time zones quickly.  The farther you travel, the worse the effects can be. 

Being considerably out of rhythm can lead to sleep deprivation or, in the recovery phase, greatly extended periods of sleep which can be just as bad.  Because your body has been trained to function with roughly a certain amount of sleep at roughly the same time every day, it does not always react well to being thrown out of whack.  Not only can it result in a lack of energy, motivation and productivity, but in more extreme cases can lead to the onset of depression, as well as affect your metabolism and other internal functions. 

Often jet lag is experienced more after returning from a trip than when you reach your destination.  Part of the reason for this is because you are usually excited about where you are going for a brief period of time.  Whether it’s for work and you have a lot to accomplish or you are going on vacation and there is a lot to enjoy.  Also, both workers and vacationers tend to do things while they are away that ultimately make jet lag worse upon return.  Business travelers usually tax their minds more than normal because they are working hard on the big presentation, or whatever the case may be.  Vacationers on the other hand push their bodies harder than normal and try to make the most of each day by getting up early, spending tons of time walking and pushing late into the evening. 

If you are going to be traveling a great distance in a short period of time, here are a few things you can do to hopefully eliminate jet lag, or at least make the transition a little easier.

What We can do to help fight it:

  • Be mindful of the time zone you are traveling to as opposed to the one you are leaving.  Try to establish your pattern on the journey to fit the external clock there.  That may mean staying up through the long flight so that you can sleep when you arrive there at night time.

  • Taking melatonin has been proven to reduce the onset and effects of jet lag on travelers who have quickly crossed anywhere between 2-4 time zones.  This usually is more effective when you are travel to the east, or loosing time.

  • Jet lag is not usually something that a physician should be contacted for, but keep a watchful eye on your symptoms and if you have returned from a trip and suffering jet lag after 12 days you should consult a physician.

squareMore Helpful Information

:: The Sleep Channel's Jet Lag Page has a lot of useful information on this topic, as well as a Jet Lag Forum.

:: On the The American Academy of Family Physicians site there is a published study on the topic: Can Melatonin Prevent or Treat Jet Lag?

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