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Combatting Jet Lag

Millions of people travel during the holiday season to visit family and during the summer for vacation. Traveling by air across multiple time zones can throw your body's daily cycles into a tailspin. The rhythm of your daily life, known as circadian rhythm plays an important part in your health. When you abruptly change patterns of eating, working, relaxing and sleeping, your body's internal clock gets out of sync with the world's external clock, (sunrise and sunset). This malady is called Jet Lag. It's symptoms may include fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, loss of mental acuity, clumsiness and irritability.

Valley View Hospital offers the following tips on mitigating the effects of jet lag:

The Importance of Light

Daylight has a very powerful influence on your body's clock. You can go far toward resetting yours by spending time outdoors, when you reach your destination. When traveling east, you'll benefit from being outside in the morning and midday light. Going west, the middle and late afternoon light will help your clock adjust. The point is to absorb light through your eyes, so wearing sun screen won't cancel out the beneficial effects of the sunlight. Sitting in the shade is fine, too. Even sitting by a window may help if you can't get outside.


A study of U.S. military travelers found that following a special diet for three days before departure alleviated jet lag. Ronald Reagan followed this program and called it a "fine contribution to humanity." Basically, the "jet lag diet" alternates "feast" and "fast" days. A feast day consists of a high-protein breakfast and lunch and high-carbohydrate dinner. On a fast day, meals consist of salads, soup and fruit in small quantities. The principle is to eat high-protein meals when you're trying to stay awake and high-carbohydrate meals when you want to sleep. The program is spelled out in the book Overcoming Jet Lag by Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D. and Lynne Waller Scanlon.


During a flight, avoid alcohol and caffeine. Drink plenty of water. Even slight dehydration can cause listlessness and fatigue and make you more prone to mental errors. Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics that can leave you feeling dehydrated. In addition,alcohol can aggravate lethargy and fatigue and too much caffeine can cause nervousness, anxiety, tremors and insomnia.

Think About The Schedule

Start shifting your sleep/wake cycle in advance. If traveling east to west, go to bed and get up later each day for a few days before departure. Going west to east, move your sleep time earlier each day.

Make every effort to stick to the local schedule as soon as you arrive. Avoid napping during the day. Do something very relaxing, like soaking in a hot tub, before bedtime.

It Takes Time

As a rule of thumb, it takes one day to recuperate for each time zone you cross. But many travelers find that they can speed up recovery time or diminish symptoms by employing the above strategies. Keep in mind,though, that individuals vary greatly in how they respond to time changes.

If you need to be really sharp for an important meeting or event several time zones away, get to your destination two or three days in advance to give your body time to adjust.

A final consideration....

If you are on a regimen of medications,you may have to adjust when you take them. Check with your physician before leaving.


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