Jet lag is a common condition affecting travellers who take long-distance flights across several time zones. It tends to be particularly pronounced when travelling east. Jet lag can be treated with melatonin tablets.
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Jet lag is a condition which occurs when crossing several time zones due to travel. Our need for sleep and levels of alertness depend on a mechanism called the circadian cycle. The circadian cycle determines at which time of the day we feel awake or tired. It depends on cues from the outside world and is affected by daylight and darkness. When taking a long distance flight, you arrive in an environment where the time of day contradicts your “body clock”, which can make it difficult to adapt to the local time at your destination.
Travellers usually find that they tolerate travelling west better than travelling east. This is due to the fact that our circadian cycle adapts faster when we are required to stay up longer to adjust to the local time. When travelling east, our circadian cycle tends to take longer to adapt, as it is more difficult to sleep earlier than it is to stay awake for longer. When travelling east, travellers tend to experienced more pronounced symptoms of jet lag.
The risk of jet lag symptoms increases with the number of time zones you cross when flying. Travellers don’t usually suffer from jet lag unless they cross at least three time zones. The more time zones you cross, the more noticeable the time difference will be.
The most common jet lag symptom is a disturbed sleeping cycle. You may find it difficult to sleep at night and stay awake during daytime at your destination. As a result, you may feel lethargic, tired and have problems concentrating.
Other possible symptoms of jet lag include:
These symptoms should subside within 2 days. Depending on how many time zones you cross, they may remain for several days.
The hormone melatonin has been found to help travellers overcome the symptoms of jet lag. It naturally occurs in the body and is involved in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Taking melatonin helps you go to sleep at the correct time (when it is nighttime at your travel destination), which helps your body adjust to the new time zone.
Melatonin is currently not licensed for use in jet lag in the UK. It is licensed for use to treat insomnia, but a large scientific review has endorsed its use for prevention of jet lag.
Although it is difficult to avoid jet lag entirely when travelling over long distances, there are steps you can take to overcome jet lag quicker. It helps if you begin your journey well rested, after a good night’s sleep. You can begin settling into the correct routine while you are still on the plane, by trying to sleep when it is nighttime at your destination. Once you have arrived, you should try to adapt to the correct schedule as soon as possible.