International business and leisure travel has become common with the explosion of low cost air travel and globalisation. While now everyone has the luxury of eating breakfast in Bangalore and dining in Bangkok the same day, jet lag is one of the bad side effects of international travel.
Desynchronosis, the medical term for jet lag, is caused due to a disruption of our internal body clock. Deep within our brain is a very tiny gland called the Pineal gland that is connected to the nerves in our eyes. It senses darkness and releases a chemical called Melatonin (“Hormone of Darkness”) that sets our body clock into a sleep mode, triggering the start of natural sleep.
When we travel across three or more time zones, our body clock is unable to adjust to the destination time, causing improper sleep (delayed start and early awakening), mental and physical fatigue, inability to concentrate, constipation, loss of appetite, etc. Travelling within the same time zone (eg from north to south) does not cause most of these well-recognized symptoms.
Prevention and Adjustment
While travelling, one should avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine as they add to the body clock disruption. Try to move around during the flight to promote mental and physical activity. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Sleep, if possible, during long flights.
On arrival, try to adapt to the local schedule as soon as possible if you are staying for more than two days. Eat and sleep at the local time and try to be outdoors during the day. Resist the urge to sleep as soon as you reach your hotel. On the day of arrival, if possible, avoid situations where critical decision-making is involved. Jet lag hampers your ability to think clearly.
However, if your stay is less than two days, it is better to remain on home time.
Medication to Help Prevent Jet Lag
The same sleep-enabling hormone – Melatonin – is available as a prescription medication. Melatonin or other mild sedatives may be used to enable the traveller to sleep on day one. Eating and sleeping at the appropriate local time will reset the internal biological clock. The use of sedatives has been shown to cause drowsiness during the next day and must be used after consulting your doctor.
Q Is Melatonin addictive?
No. It is safe with very minimal side effects.
Q Do Vitamins help prevent jet lag?
Vitamins do not help prevent this. However, you can continue taking them if you are already on vitamins.
Q I travel long distances. What about my regular medication?
You must not miss ones regular Heart, BP, Diabetic medication. Please take them without fail, even while travelling.