Jet lag is a term used to refer to disturbed sleep patterns, weakness and disorientation caused by travelling. It happens when the normal body clock is disrupted by travelling through several time zones. It is worse when you move from west to east because the body finds it harder to adapt to a shorter day than a longer one.
While jet lag it is not a serious condition, it can ruin the first few days of a holiday and can affect mood, ability to concentrate, and physical and mental performance. This can be a particular issue for business travellers, who may be required to start work immediately after arrival, often after long journeys. Travellers who take medication at regular times of the day, and especially those with diabetes, should seek medical advice from a health professional before their journey.
A number of steps can be taken to minimize the effects of jet lag:
Before you travel
Exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get plenty of rest. Make sure you're fully rested before you travel and adopt to the new time zone as soon as possible. A few days before you travel, start getting up and going to bed earlier (if you're travelling east) or later (if you're travelling west). Regular exercise during the day of travel may help you sleep, but avoid strenuous exercise immediately before bedtime. A stopover in your flight will make it easier to adjust to the time change, and you'll be less tired when you arrive.
During your journey
During the flight, try to eat and sleep according to your destination's local time. Take advantage of any short airport transits to have a refreshing shower or swim, if possible.
Drink plenty of water as dehydration can intensify the effects of jet lag, especially after several hours in an air conditioned aeroplane cabin. Try to sleep on the plane to avoid overtiredness and to allow you to adapt to the new time zone if travelling West where you will lose sleep. Avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine as they can disturb sleep, and using a travel eyemask and earplugs may also help avoid interruptions to your sleep.
Many airline staff take melatonin, a hormone formed by the body at night or in darkness, to try to fight jet lag. Sleeping medication is not recommended as it doesn't help your body to adjust naturally to a new sleeping pattern.
At your destination
The cycle of light and dark is one of the most important factors in setting the body’s internal clock. Exposure to daylight at the destination will usually help you adapt to the new time zone faster.
Try to get as much sleep in every 24 hours as you would normally. Talk to your doctor about taking medicine to help you sleep at night. A minimum block of four hours’ sleep during the local night – known as “anchor sleep” – is thought to be necessary to help you adapt to a new time zone. If you are sleepy during the day, take short naps (20–30 minutes) so you can still sleep at night. Avoid alcoholic and caffeine drinks (such as coffee, tea and cola), which can disturb sleep.
Don’t make any important decisions on the first day where possible, as jet lag can affect the ability to concentrate, mood and physical and mental performance. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and eat meals at the appropriate local time.
For stays of less than three or four days, it may be better for the traveller to remain on "home time" (that is, timing activities such as sleeping and eating to occur at the times they would have occurred at home) to minimise disruption to the normal sleep-wake cycle although this is not always practical.
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