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You say good morning, when it’s jet lag

Desynchronosis and circadian dysrhythmia, are two words that don’t mean a whole lot to many people. But even without knowing the meaning of these “doctors only” terms, many people have suffered from this condition. We’re talking about jet lag.

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What is it?

A simple alteration to the body’s circadian rhythms which is brought about though the voyage across time zones. This change in time zone, normally at least three zones, which means a change in the time of sunrise and sunset causes the body clock to fall out of sync with the destination time. A relatively new experience as prior to long-haul flights our travel methods were slow enough that our bodies had time to adapt to the changes.

So, your body doesn’t understand why the sun is up at night and doesn’t know quite what to do. What this means is a degraded quality of sleep where you will struggle to fall asleep and wake up early in the morning. This wonderful lack of rest is combined with feelings of irritability, headaches and changes to the frequency of defecation. A combination of pleasant symptoms that can take a few days to present themselves at full force.

It is not, however, the length of the flight that poses problem for our bodies. Long flights from the north to the south will result in fatigue but no signs of jet lag. While a flight eastward causes jetlag and requires more time to adapt than a westward flight due to the body cycle being longer than 24 hours, thereby allowing it to catch up to the lengthened cycle.

What to do?

Trying to adjust your sleeping pattern prior to the flight is not a valid plan as social obligations and sunlight will reduce the effectiveness of the changes made. This leaves the option of what to do once you leave for a trip. Although there exists mobile apps (iOS/Android) that monitor and create a routine in the hopes of minimising the effects of long-haul flights.

In the plane the dry air and lack of movement requires fruit juice and an avoidance of alcoholic beverages in order to combat dehydration. But even before you drink something immediately adjust your watch to match the time of your destination and commence following a normal routine with the hour it shows. This could mean skipping meals or trying to sleep when you don’t feel particularly tired. This situation can be helped by eating a high carb meal just before you plan to sleep as it will induce drowsiness.

Once you arrive at your destination, the number of time zones passed as well as your physical fitness will affect the amount of time before you feel back to normal. But on average one day per time zone can be used as a gauge as to the number of days needed to recover. Finally, try to avoid naps as they will anchor the body in your home time zone and rather place yourself in the sunlight or partake in some light exercise. Frequent flyers can look into the use of melatonin tablets to help speed up adjustment times.

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