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by Robert MacKay, Saturday, June 11, 2016 | Categories: Travel Clinic

Combatting Jet Lag

Whether we travel often for business, have family on another continent, or have a big summer getaway planned, flying is something that a lot of us end up doing once or twice a year. Thankfully, modern innovations have made flying more and more convenient and comfortable over the years. But if there’s one obstacle that we always face – no matter how good those first class seats – it’s jet lag.

Jet lag is a label given to a set of symptoms that you experience after a long-haul flight. Though it might not give you much cause for concern when compared to other travel-related conditions such as malaria, jet lag is something that can seriously derail a holiday or business trip.

Luckily, there are certain things you can do to get around the worst symptoms, and if the latest research into light therapy is to be believed, even more help could be on the way. Read on to find out more.

Causes & Symptoms

Jet lag happens when your body crosses several time zones and has to readjust to the new schedule. It all comes down to your body’s circadian rhythms, which essentially provide an inner timetable for waking, eating and sleeping. When you enter a new time zone on a drastically different schedule to the one you have come from, your circadian rhythms have trouble adapting.

The main symptom is sleep disturbance, where you find yourself unable to drop off or wake up at the appropriate times. You may also find your appetite is disrupted. Resulting symptoms can include constipation, diarrhoea, anxiety, irritability, lethargy, confusion and a general feeling of being unwell. In some cases, the symptoms can last up to six days.

Preventing Jet Lag

It’s not easy to avoid jet lag, particularly if you’re travelling west to east. The good news is that there are some techniques you can use before you arrive at your destination.

Before you travel, try to adapt your sleep routine slightly to the new time zone. You should also try to get a good night’s sleep before you fly – so if you’re very concerned about jet lag, avoid booking an early flight.

Once on the plane, switch your watch to the new time zone immediately. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, and drink lots of water. Try and sleep if you can (an eye mask, ear plugs and comfy socks help), and take regular breaks from your seat to stretch your legs.

Having arrived at your destination, try your hardest to adapt to the new time zone straight away. Eat at the appropriate meal times, get used to being outside in the natural light when the sun is up, and – whatever you do – don’t take naps.

Lastly, there’s been some interesting research carried out into the effects of light therapy. Researchers at Stanford University have found that exposing your eyes to flashes of bright light while you are sleeping can help your body adjust to a new time zone before you arrive in it. Learn more here.

Treating Jet Lag

If you follow the tips above, you should find that any symptoms ease off within a few days. However, if you’re on a short trip and you need to make the most of your time, there are a couple of treatments you can try.

The first is sleeping tablets, which you may be able to obtain through a prescription from your GP, depending upon your specific needs. The second is melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your body releases in the evening to signal that it’s time to sleep. It stops being released in the morning, at which point your body wakes up.

In the UK, melatonin is prescribed to help treat insomnia. However, it can also be used off-label to combat jet lag. It comes in the form of a tablet and is taken with food a few hours before you intend to sleep. Prescribing medicines off-label (i.e. for another purpose than that for which they are licensed) is a safe and common practice in the UK when it is done through a registered medical service such as The Online Clinic.

If you would like to learn more about jet lag or order melatonin from The Online Clinic, click here.

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