Combating Jet Lag
"I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again,
oh babe, I hate to go." - The Mamas And The Papas
A lot of airline travelers think about this song or the after-effects of travel across time zones called jet lag. Crossing time zones can cause you to wake during the night or have difficulty getting to sleep and then you want to fall asleep during the day. Your inbuilt bio- rhythms have been disturbed, and it can take many days for the body to readjust to the new time zone. It is estimated that you need one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to regain normal rhythm and energy levels. So a 5-hour time difference means you will require five days to get back to normal! How can you minimize this from happening to you when you travel? This article will review the problem of jet lag and what you can do to lessen the effects of this common condition that impacts most airline travelers.
The main but not the only cause of jet lag is crossing time zones. Usually going east is worse than going west. Children under three don't seem to suffer jet lag badly as they are more adaptive and less set in their ways. Adults who adjust readily to changes of routine also seem less susceptible to jet lag. Those who are slaves to a fixed daily routine are often the worst sufferers.
Jet lag can impair both judgment and performance. An interesting statistic has it that U.S. baseball teams playing home games scored 1.24 more runs than usual when their visitors had taken long flights eastwards to play.
Many of us treat jet lag by using the stimulant du jour. Most of us seem to rely on caffeine and alcohol to combat jet lag. Others use home grown remedies such as setting your watch to the destination time as soon as you step on the plane, drinking plenty of water, trying to sleep in-flight, exercise when you arrive or resisting the urge to nap before bedtime when you reach your destination.
Get your rest
One low tech method is to try and be well rested before you travel and then to try to sleep as much as possible en route. Some travelers use sleeping pills to sleep in-flight, but they may leave you feeling groggy, and lying immobile for several hours can increase your risk of deep-vein thrombosis.
Drink lots of water on any flight - a generous cup of water every hour would be ideal. The dry atmosphere on a plane causes accelerated dehydration, and one factor of jet lag is just the body's stress response to drying out on the plane. Another benefit of drinking water is that it will cause you to go to the restroom regularly, and the forced exercise will reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis at the same time!
Avoid caffeinated beverages. Airline coffee and tea not only tend to taste awful - they have a higher than usual caffeine content and are abrasive on the stomach. Orange juice is also abrasive if you are not used to it. If you don't normally drink really strong coffee, tea or orange juice, don't try it while flying. Also go easy on the frequent meals served in-flight. You don't need them. And sitting in a cramped position puts extra pressure on your stomach and leads to indigestion and makes it difficult to fall asleep.
An over the counter solution is melatonin, a hormone secreted by the brain. Melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement, and does not require a prescription. The usual dosage is 0.5mg and should be taken in the morning before traveling to the west and should be taken at be taken at bedtime when traveling to the east.
Over-the-counter sleep aids
Other over-the-counter sleep aids include Sominex, Benadryl, Excedrin PM. These are antihistamines and very light sedatives. Unisom, NyQuil are highly sedating antihistamines and often associated with lethargy and tiredness in the morning upon awakening.
Herbal remedies include valerian and chamomile. The latter is a tea and is widely used as a sleep-inducer and mild tranquilizer.
Prescription medications include Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta. All of these require a doctor's prescription and are very safe for short term use.
Several airlines offer online advice on how to minimize the effects of jet lag. For more information check: www.britishairways.com, www.continental.com, www.delta.com, and www.quantas.com. I also recommend a jet lag calculator www.ba.com/jetlag that can predict the number of hours of sleep deprivation you will experience if you give your departure city and time, and arrival city and time.
So if you want to arrive at your destination and be rested and energetic, think about trying a few of these preventive ideas. Happy trails to you...without the jet lag!
Reprinted with permission from Dialog Medical, dialogmedical.com and Neil Baum, MD, neilbaum.com.
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