13 Ways to Avoid Jet Lag

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, jet lag can highjack travel plans and hold you hostage with an assortment of ailments. And it’s not just your imagination.

“Jet lag is a recognized sleep disorder,” says Jeremy Tabak, M.D., medical director for Baptist Sleep Center at Galloway, who also oversees the Sleep Diagnostic Centers at Baptist and South Miami Hospitals. “It’s a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that occurs when your internal clock is not synchronized with the cycle of light and dark in your new environment.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines jet lag as a “temporary disorder among air travelers who rapidly travel across three or  more time zones.” 

Signs of jet lag include:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns, such as trouble falling asleep or difficulty remaining awake at appropriate times in a new time zone.
  • Lack of concentration and reduced ability to handle mental and physical chores. This can make you more accident-prone.
  • Listlessness or general malaise.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including nausea.
  • Headaches and mood swings.

 Symptoms may vary according to the number of time zones you cross and the direction in which you travel, sleep experts say. For example, going east to Europe and Asia tends to exact a harsher toll than westward travel.

“After eastward flights, jet lag lasts for the number of days roughly equal to two-thirds the number of time zones crossed; after westward flights, the number of days is roughly half the number of time zones,” the CDC reports.

Dr. Tabak recommends taking the following steps to minimize or eliminate jet lag:

Before the trip:  

1. Change your bedtime.  He recommends adjusting your bedtime in small increments of an hour each night during the days before your trip. Go to sleep earlier each night to prepare for a trip east; stay up an hour or two later each night in preparation for a western destination.

2. Rest up. Make sure you get plenty of rest a night or two before your trip.

3. Guard your health. Good habits are always good companions during the journey through life, but a pre-trip regimen of healthy food, adequate rest and lots of exercise will help minimize jet lag, according to the CDC.

4. Schedule a stop-over. Divide a long trip into two stops. 

During the flight:

5. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. Even if you get enough rest, dehydration could lead to “travel fatigue.”

6. Don’t over-indulge. Steer clear of a heavy meal, caffeine or alcoholic drinks.

7.  Stand up. Move around while in flight to maintain mental focus and to  protect against the formation of blood clots, or deep vein thromboses (DVT), due to sitting in one position for too long. 

8.  Seek comfort.  Wear clothing and shoes that will make you feel comfortable.

9.  Sleep. Try to rest during a long flight. Ask your doctor for advice about sleep aids, including prescription or over-the-counter options, such as melatonin. 

After the flight:

10.  Adjust your bedtime to the local time.

11.  If you have traveled east, increase your exposure to bright light during the morning hours and avoid bright light in the evening.  If you have flown west, avoid bright light in the morning, but get plenty of light later in the day.

12.  Avoid caffeine after noon, local time.

13.  Take short naps.

 Above all, Dr. Tabak says to be patient with yourself and consider delaying important business meetings, major decisions or demanding tasks until later in your trip. “It’s going to resolve itself with time.”

 Bon voyage!


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