Preventing Jet lag

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Anyone looking to travel across time zones will have encountered jet lag at some point, a condition with a number of symptoms including fatigue and sleeplessness. A consequence of moving from one day-night cycle to another, the condition can make the first few days of any trip uncomfortable at the least, and as a result many people who are travelling longer distances look to adopt strategies to prevent the condition from developing, or at least minimising its effects. In this article we look at what you can do to prevent the worst of jet lag.

Prevention strategies to minimise or avoid jet lag altogether

One of the most popular and perhaps simplest prevention strategies currently available is the use of artificial melatonin to readjust your body clock and prevent jet lag. One of the key features of jet lag, which is by and large responsible for the many symptoms and affects you experience, is a disruption in melatonin and its release. Melatonin is a biological timekeeping hormone which signals to your system whether it is night time and you should be resting, or day time when you should be awake.

By taking artificial melatonin you can manually reset this biological clock, and the drug is thought to be quite effective at preventing the onset of jet lag when used correctly. Unfortunately melatonin is not available commercially as an over the counter drug here in the UK, and you will need a prescription from your GP to make use of the drug. This will allow you an opportunity to talk about the medication and its effects and receive instruction on how to best use the drug.

Beyond medication there are a number of alternative strategies that can be employed, and these can either effectively prevent jet lag or at the very least minimise the condition’s effects and help you cope with the symptoms.

If possible you should adjust your daily schedule before leaving on  your trip to more closely match that of your destination. If you travelling from west to east, you should go to bed a bit earlier, even a difference of a couple of hours can help your body adjust to your future travel. If you are travelling in the opposite direction, it may be advisable to move your bed time forward a bit to achieve the same end. Similarly adjusting your meal times can also help you adjust to the schedule at your new destination.

This adjustment should definitely be applied once you are on your way to your destination. You are advised to adjust and behave as if you were working to the schedule of your destination as soon as you are en route as this helps you make a psychological as well as physical adjustment.

While you may be tempted to use caffeine to help you stay awake or alcohol to help you get to sleep when travelling or once you arrive,  it is actually strongly recommended that you avoid these substances as they can impair your body’s ability to adjust to your new rhythm and schedule. Caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, and both substances affect your neurological function as well as other important physiological processes. Altering your body’s workings in this manner is not advised when you are already undergoing hormonal changes in response to your new environment. Moreover both caffeine and alcohol can cause dehydration which can further affect your body’s ability to adapt, and make you feel the worse for wear.

General health and fitness can be important factors in how well you can respond to the environmental changes which trigger jet lag. You are advised to spend some time in the weeks before you travel exercising regularly in preparation for the trip. This can be further supported by adjusting your diet so that you are receiving the nutrition you need, and by ensuring that you are well hydrated before, during, and after your travels. Nutrition can be extremely important, particularly when it comes to what we eat before we sleep. Foods rich in sugars and fats can disrupt our sleeping patterns, which is a great example of how important nutrition can be when it comes to preventing jet lag and getting the sleep and rest we need.

Whilst travelling you are advised to get up and move around as much as possible. This has a number of benefits, not the least of which can be keeping you awake if you need to be according to the schedule of your destination. Movement to this end can be anything as simple as walking up and down the length of the plane, stretching, or performing some basic static exercise, all of these options can contribute to the prevention of jet lag.

Using lamps and lights which offer natural light therapy can be an effective preventative method as you can use these tools to recalibrate your natural body clock. The hormonal rhythms disrupted by jet lag are light sensitive, and you can use a natural light source to stimulate your body into adjusting to your new schedule.

It is important that you follow all of the necessary instructions when using natural light therapy, and it may be advisable that you speak to your GP or a sleep specialist on how to best utilise this technology.

These measures are all advised because they have proven successful for many travels, but which strategies are most effective for you can only be determined through trial and error. It is worth investing some time into all of these methods to give yourself the best chance of avoiding jet lag and its unwanted effects.

If you are aiming to arrive for a business event or conference where you will need to perform to the best of your ability, you should aim to play it safe and  arrive at your destination a few days early. Prevention strategies are not always reliable, and where it is important to do so you should play it safe. Arriving early gives your body and mind time to adjust, and ensures that you will be at the top of your game when necessary.

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