We experience jet lag when we travel through different time zones on long flights and our body's ‘clock’ can’t keep up with the change in time zones. As our ‘body clock’ is controlled by hormones that are slow to react to changes, a quick change in time zones, such as from a long haul flight, results in you still running at the time of your previous location for a number of days until your body adapts. This can leave you awake at unsociable hours and tired during the day; this can cause problems, especially on business trips.
Scientists tell us that jet lag is caused due to disruptions in our body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the physical, mental and behavioural changes we experience during the length of a day (24 hours) as our body reacts to changes in light and darkness in our environment. Circadian rhythms play a very significant role in determining our sleep patterns. When our body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted, we experience various psychological and physiological effects like fatigue, irritability, etc.
Jet lag is caused by your body struggling to reset its ‘clock’, know as the circadian rhythm. Travelling quickly across time zones means that your body struggles to adapt to the new hours of light and dark, leaving the hormones that control your circadian rhythm out of sync. This can be particularly problematic when flying East as this means you must adapt to a shorter day, something your body finds particularly hard.
Common symptoms of jet lag may include trouble falling asleep, early waking up, interrupted sleep, headaches, fatigue, trouble in passing bowel movements and reduced appetite.
We don’t always experience the same amount of jet lag. Jet lag is worse when you are travelling from West to East than East to West. According to studies, when you fly east, the time it takes for you to recover from jet lag (in days) is roughly two-thirds of the number of time zones you cross. If you cross six time zones, you should take 4 days to recover from jet lag. However, if you are flying west, the time taken to recover from jet lag (in days) is half the number of time zones you cross, which means that if you are crossing six time zones, you will recover in 3 days.
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a significant role in regulating bodily rhythms and is used as a drug to realign people with the difference in time zones. Melatonin (Circadin) is available from The Independent Pharmacy to fight the symptoms of jet lag and allow your body to adjust to external time. Taking melatonin close to the target bedtime at your destination (10pm to midnight), decreases jet lag.
Melatonin is recommended for short term use if you are travelling across multiple time zones. It is advisable to take melatonin after dark on the day you travel and at the same time for a few days after arriving at your destination if you are travelling westward. If you are travelling eastward, it is recommended that you take melatonin in the evening for a few days before flying out. The time at which you take melatonin every day has to be consistent because any delay can cause disruptions in how quickly your circadian rhythms adjust with and adapt to external time.
Melatonin’s side effects for long-term use have not been established yet. If you are on blood-thinning medication, you should seek medical advice before taking melatonin.
Neither of these approaches are recommended. Both sleeping pills and alcohol tend to 'knock you out'. They don't produce a natural sleep and therefore will not help to change your body's natural (circadian) rhythm. They also tend to add to the 'hangover' you already feel from changing time zones and being out of sync.
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