Coping With Jet Lag
Patricia Zifferblatt |
May 1, 2007
The last issue of
The Lancet contains an excellent seminar on jet lag, a condition
that affects many travelers. Some of the symptoms of jet lag are:
General fatigue and weariness
Poor action in mental and physical tasks
Indigestion, constipation, etc.
Several conditions can make jet lag worse, particularly the older you are
and the more time zones you cross; where women are in their menstrual cycle
may also have an effect. Traveling east is worse than traveling west, and
travelers on long flights north or south usually have no symptoms of jet
According to the authors, jet lag isn’t caused by “the changes of culture,
the time of the flight, the associated aggravation, or the length of the
flight itself”--it’s your body’s clock acting up. It’s normally adjusted by
"time-givers" such as the light/dark cycle, whether food is available, how
active you are, and other social influences. Abruptly change all of those,
and your body protests! (As the name suggests, you don’t experience jet lag
when traveling by car, train, or ship because the changes to your
environment are made gradually over several days, giving your body a chance
to change time zones more slowly.)
For those of you lucky enough to have an exciting trip planned for this
summer, here are a few practical ideas to help you minimize jet lag:
In addition, there are many books and helpful tips for coping with jet lag
in bookstores and online. The most important thing you can do is what they
taught you in Scouting: Be prepared--and enjoy the ride!
- Try to plan your travel well in advance to avoid unexpected
problems. If you’re traveling westward, plan to arrive in late
evening--it makes a long day, but it may be easier to fall asleep and
get yourself on the local schedule.
- Consider scheduling a stop-over, especially on trips across several
time zones. Of course, you may decide that dealing with bags, passports,
airports, and hotels one additional time is more trouble than it’s
- Make sure all your papers are in order, especially when traveling to
another country. This will help avoid additional stress.
- While traveling, don’t drink alcoholic or caffeinated
beverages--they tend to dehydrate the body. Drink water instead.
- Eat fruit whenever possible to help your body stay regular.
- Try to relax, and sleep or nap while traveling.
- Upon arrival at your destination, take a shower and try to get your
body moving on local time. (The authors advise not trying to reset your
body clock if you’re staying less than three days.) Take short naps if
you feel you need them, but try to adjust to local time as soon as
possible. Longer naps over four hours can prevent adjustments to your
body clock--fine on short trips, but counterproductive for longer stays.
- For a little extra help in shifting to a new time zone, melatonin
has been used by many travelers and is generally regarded as safe; it’s
available in the U.S. in health-food stores and pharmacies. Take it in
the early evening on the new local time to help you get a good night’s