Travel Advice - The perils of jet lag
recommendations for accommodating jet lag
Jet lag is caused by rapidly crossing time
zones and getting out of synch with the rhythms of day and night at your
According to medical specialists, the body’s
internal clock (known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus [SCN)] located in
the hypothalmus) takes its timing clues from sunlight. When travel
takes you across time zones, your internal clock becomes confused, as
its frame of reference unexpectedly changes. In general, jet lag is more
severe when you travel to the east (against the movement of the sun) and
increases in severity in response to the number of time zones crossed
during your flight.
Common symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, irritability, difficulty
sleeping, and the inability to reason simple problems, such as making
change. The symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity and duration, but
usually dissipate over a two or three-day period.
The medical recommendation for adjusting to jet lag
is to take one day of rest to catch up with each time zone crossed. Most
of us do not have enough vacation time to follow the recommended
procedure and must learn to modify our travel behavior to accommodate
Many international journeys begin with an overnight
flight that often results in being robbed of a refreshing night’s sleep.
When you add sleeplessness to jet lag , you have the ingredients for a
very bad day. Although you cannot avoid jet lag, you can accommodate it.
Our recommendations for avoiding or tempering Jet Lag are as follows:
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks on the
flight. Consuming either may contribute to more severe jet lag.
- Try to get to sleep earlier than usual the night
before a long distance trip in an easterly direction. Doing so
will help the body begin to prepare for coping with day and night
- Once you have boarded the plane, set your watch
to the local time at your destination.
- To the extent possible, try to align your
schedule to the local schedule. For example, if you are flying from
Chicago to London on an overnight flight, eat a light dinner as soon
as possible and, then, turn in for the night, since it will be the
middle of the night in London.
- If you can sleep on planes, catch as much sleep
as you can. Even if you do not sleep well on airplanes, try to catch a
- Take off your shoes, wear a sleeping mask,
cover yourself with a blanket, and focus on relaxing.
- Even if you do not sleep, try to meditate.
- In any event, do whatever you can to relax as
completely as possible.
- If traveling internationally, do not plan an
active first day. Instead, try to limit the amount of additional travel
- If your international flight arrives early in the
morning, try to prearrange an early check-in at your hotel. If you can
get into your room early, do so.
- Once settled, get under the covers and take a
brief nap of no more than one hour. No cheating! Sleeping any longer
than an hour will exacerbate jet lag.
- After your nap, walk and sightsee the rest of
the day. Eat dinner at the local mealtime, then, return to your
hotel, and hit the sack no earlier than 9 PM.
- Set your alarm to wake you at seven or eight
but no later (it is likely that you will be up before then). If you
follow our recommendations, you should wake the next morning in good
- If your international flight arrives in the
morning but you cannot check in early, then leave your luggage at the
hotel and walk and sightsee until your room is available.
- If you are going to eat, do so at the local
meal times. Return to the hotel as soon as you can get your room and
take a one-hour nap.
- Do not take a nap after three in the afternoon
or you will find it difficult to sleep at bedtime.
- Set your alarm as described above.
- If your international flight arrives mid-day,
stay the course and do not sleep (not even a nap) until 9 or 10 that
- Eat meals at local meal times.
- Set your alarm as described above.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol on your
first day, as doing so will generally help you fall into a deep slumber
when you finally hit the hay.
Recent research suggests that exercising during your
flight and upon arrival at your destination will help to retard jet lag.
Many travelers claim that taking Melatonin helps
reduce jet lag. We are not yet convinced that taking Melatonin is
safe and recommend that you discuss taking it with your physician prior
Getting into the “local swing of things” right from
the start of your vacation helps combat jet lag. Have dinner at
local dinnertime and retire at a reasonable bedtime based on the local
clock, not your clock back at home.
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