Are past memories of jet lag putting you off flying? Dr Deborah Mills can help.
After 24 hours or more strapped into a tiny aeroplane seat, most of us want to hit the ground running when we’re finally set free at our destination. But, although the mind is willing, all too often our bodies are not, because they’re suffering the effects of jet lag.
What causes jet lag?
Jet lag occurs when your internal body clock is out of synch with the local time zone. This internal clock is synchronised by
hormones released by the pineal gland in your brain and guides you when to feel hungry, tired and even how often
to use the bathroom. It’s affected by phenomena such as light and dark, temperature, humidity and social interactions. These all play a part in finetuning your body’s 24-hour schedule.
When you move to a different time zone, the precision timing is turned on its head, internal confusion reigns and jet lag sets
in. So you may arrive in London in time for dinner with friends at a civilised 8 p.m. local time, but end up snoozing with your
head in the soup, because your body thinks it’s 5 a.m. the next day.
The severity of jet lag is not linked to the length of your air travel, but to the number of time zones traversed and the direction you are heading. Those travelling west to east normally experience the most problems. It can take some people up to a week to feel normal after flying from the UK to Australia, for example, although others
tolerate the time shift better
Can it be avoided?
If you’re travelling east, consider the possibility of breaking your journey with a stopover. And try to avoid any big
farewell parties in the days immediately prior to your departure, because you need at least two good night’s sleeps
before you go.
How can you combat it?
The best cure for jet lag is rest. Don’t organise to do too much on the first day you arrive – in particular, avoid picking
up a hire car and extending your travel with a couple of hours’ driving.
You will adapt to your new time zone faster if you try to do what the locals are doing. Try to eat something at the new
mealtimes and sleep at the current timezone sleep times. It’s also been thought a walk on the morning after you arrive can help. Sunshine stimulates the optic nerve and helps the pineal gland to reset the body clock.
However, a Harvard Medical School study released in 2008 revealed further information about a food-related ‘clock’ in the brain that overrides the lightbased clock. It seems a period of fasting for about 16 hours (e.g. no eating during the flight) and then eating as soon as you land can help you adjust to the new time zone more quickly. Maintain regular sleep patterns of seven to eight hours per night and avoid those very tempting afternoon naps. If sleep is eluding you, 5 mg of Melatonin (the ‘hormone of darkness’), taken at your target bedtime for two to five days after arrival, may help.