Jet Lag: a Common Sleep Disorder
Jet lag is a sleep disorder that affects thousands of residents in Hawaii. When we sleep at night, an internal body clock automatically tells us when to go to sleep. This is why we become sleepy at night and at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. This body clock continues to cycle 24-hours per day.
Our body clock, however, is sluggish. When we change to a new time zone, our body clock does not immediately change. Our body still feels sleepy and tired which corresponds to the time zone we just came from.
About 75 percent of all people who cross through more than one time zone within 24 hours suffer jet lag symptoms which include drowsiness, exhaustion, loss of concentration and irritability. Although there is no cure for jet lag, you can lessen its effects:
Get plenty of sleep prior to your trip. If possible, try to adjust your regular activities so you do them at the times you will be doing them in the new time zone.
Eat very little, drink only water and avoid alcohol and caffeine in flight. Set your watch to the time zone you will be adjusting to and start eating and sleeping in that time frame.
When you get to your destination, do not nap. Walk around, talk to people and try to get used to the environment.
Light is the most important factor in helping your body to rapidly adjust to a new time zone. When you travel to a new time zone, a brisk walk in the early morning exposes you to bright light (don't wear sunglasses) and is the best way of prompting the internal body clock to readjust.
In general, it takes one day for the internal body clock to adjust for each hour of time zone change. This means it will take you about two days to adjust for a trip to the West Coast and five days to adjust when traveling to the East Coast. Traveling to Bangkok will take you a full seven days to adjust to the new time zone.
Medical science has been actively pursuing ways of speeding up the internal body clock's ability to adapt to time changes. Besides light, "chronotherapy" is the second most effective way of helping your body clock readjust.
This means adjusting to your time zone before you leave to that of your target destination. In other words, if you travel to the West Coast, get up two hours earlier each morning for about two to three days before you leave on your trip. If you fly to Tokyo, get up about five hours later each morning for about five days before you go on your trip. Obviously, however, not everyone can do this.
Melatonin has also been reported as being effective in speeding up the internal body clock. Melatonin is a hormone given off by the brain during darkness. It fools the internal body clock into adjusting to a new time zone more rapidly. Take Melatonin only under the direction of your own family physician.
Getting ample rest is an important part of staying healthy. Occasional problems with falling asleep and periodic arousals are nothing to worry about. Consult your physician if you have problems getting enough sleep.