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What is jet lag and how can we help reduce it?

The information provided is a summary that was up to date when this article was published; however, recommendations may be updated from time to time. Please always consult with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist well in advance of travelling. 

Jet lag is a short-term sleep problem where your normal sleep is disturbed after a long flight, especially when crossing several time zones. Altered circadian rhythms – meaning your body clock is going out of sync – are thought to be the main cause. 

Symptoms can include extreme tiredness, difficulty sleeping and waking up, indigestion and problems with concentration and memory.1

There is no known cure for jet lag, but there are things you can do to help reduce its effects. 

Bask in the sunlight

Light is one of the main things controlling your body clock.2 So going outside and getting a good dose of sunlight during the day can help your body adapt to the new time zone faster.2 If you plan to be in direct sunlight, be sure to protect your skin from burning with suitable clothing and sunscreen.

At bedtime, consider limiting artificial light and blocking out any outside light to make the room dark enough for you to sleep. 

Change your sleep routine

You might start to plan and slowly change your sleep routine before your trip. The NHS advises that you start going to bed or wake up 1 or 2 hours earlier (or later) – nearer the time in your future destination.1

Keep hydrated

Water bottle

The dry air inside plane cabins can lead to dehydration, which can increase the effects of jet lag, so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water during your flight, says the NHS.1 

 

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Drinking plenty of water does not mean all kinds of beverages! It’s not known if caffeine and alcohol affect your body clock, but they will dehydrate you. Several sources recommend avoiding these.1,3 

Time your meals

The timing of your meals can affect your body clock.4 As with your sleep routine, consider having your meals at the times you would at home, if possible.4

Exercise

Person running

Research suggests that exercising can alter circadian rhythms and can help your body clock adjust to the new light–dark cycle.5 Exercise is also important during your flight. According to the NHS, stretching your legs and regularly walking around the cabin can help reduce the effects of jet lag.

 


 
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References

  1. NHS. Jet lag. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/jet-lag
  2. Choy M, Salbu R. Jet Lag: Current and Potential Therapies. PT 2011; 36(4):221–224.
  3. Herxheimer A, Waterhouse J. The prevention and treatment of jet lag: It's been ignored, but much can be done. BMJ 2003; 326(7384):296–297. 
  4. Patton DF, Mistlberger RE. Circadian adaptations to meal timing: neuroendocrine mechanisms. Front Neurosci 2013; 7:185.
  5. Youngstedt SD, et al. Human circadian phase-response curves for exercise. J Physiol 2019; 597(8):2253–2268.

All accessed January 2020.