Jet Lag

Jetlag is actually caused by disruption of your 'body clock', a small cluster of brain cells that controls the timing of biological functions (circadian rhythms), including when you eat and sleep.

The body clock is designed for a regular rhythm of daylight and darkness, so it's thrown out of sync when it experiences daylight and darkness at the 'wrong' times in a new time zone. The symptoms of jetlag often persist for days as the internal body clock slowly adjusts to the new time zone.

By following a carefully timed program of light and dark at the times your body clock is most responsive, you can quickly reset it to the new time zone. Instead of taking a week or more to adjust to an intercontinental journey, you can become fully adapted to the new time zone in just one or two days.

A successful time zone shift depends on knowing the exact times to seek and avoid bright light. Exposure to light at the wrong time can actually make jetlag worse. The proper schedule for light exposure depends a great deal on specific travel plans. Taking a night flight to Tokyo, for instance, creates very different demands than a day flight to Los Angeles. Personal variables are important too; if you're a 'night owl' you'll typically need a different schedule to a 'lark'.

Symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person. The severity of your symptoms will normally depend on how far you have travelled, and how many time zones you have crossed.  People will usually feel the symptoms of jet lag once you have crossed 3 times zones or more.

The main symptoms of jet lag is sleep disturbance, you can be awake through the night but asleep during the day.

Other symptoms can include:

  • indigestion
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • memory problems
  • clumsiness
  • lack of energy
  • light headedness
  • confusion
  • headaches
  • sweating
  • generally feeling unwell

Most people suffer from jet lag for a few days but it does depend on how fast your body can adjust to the new times.

There are a number of steps that you can take to help minimise the effect of jet lag. Some of these steps are outlined below.

What you do before you travel is one of the most important aspects of combating jet lag. Before departing, make sure you have all your affairs, business and personal, in order as being stressed can make jet lag worse.

Ensure you are not stressed-out with excitement or worry, and not tired or hung-over from a function the night before.

Get plenty of exercise in the days prior to departure and try to avoid sickness such as the flu, colds and so on. If you have a cold, flying will probably make it worse - ideally you should delay the trip.

Get a good night's sleep just prior to departure.  Also try and change your sleeping routine a few days before you are due to travel. If you are travelling east, try going to bed an hour earlier than your usual time. If you are travelling west, try going to bed an hour later.

During the flight make sure that you drink plenty of fluids during your flight. Ideally, you should also ensure that you are well hydrated before and after your flight. Avoid drinking alcohol because it can make symptoms of jet lag worse.

Try and make sure that you keep active if you are flying long distances. Walk around the cabin occasionally, and regularly stretch your arms and legs when you are sitting down.

If it is night time at your destination while you are on your flight, try and get some sleep.

Blindfolds, ear plugs, neck rests and blow-up pillows are all useful in helping you get quality sleep while flying. Kick your shoes off to ease pressure on the feet (some airlines provide soft sock-like slippers, and many experienced travellers carry their own).

When you arrive at your destination try to get used to your new routine as soon as possible. This means eating meals and sleeping at the correct times for your new time zone, and not the time you would normally be eating and sleeping back home. Natural light is a very effective way of getting your body to adjust to a new routine.


Melatonin is a hormone that your body releases in the evening. It is a way of telling your brain that it is time for your body to sleep.

Some jet lag remedies contain melatonin and aim to help you sleep at night when your body is finding it hard to adjust to the new time zone.

This is a controversial and complex treatment for jet lag involving the manipulation of a hormone in the body, starting in the days preceding travel. Research shows that if you miscalculate the right time to take it, melatonin will actually make jet lag worse!

If you are thinking about taking a jet lag remedy containing melatonin, it is important that you talk to your GP first, who will be able to advise you about whether it is suitable for you to take.



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