Jet lag is a temporary disturbance in one’s sleep pattern after taking a long flight to a place in a different time zone. It occurs when a person’s sleep-wake cycle is disturbed because of movement to a different time zone and lasts until they can get re-acclimatized, which typically take a few days.
The human body has an internal clock, synced to the 24-hour day, that responds primarily to light and dark to regulate its sleep-wake cycle. This internal process is called the circadian rhythm. This cycle is regulated by the brain through the release of the melatonin hormone in response to darkness and helps with sleep.
Imagine you’re on a 15-hour non-stop flight from New Delhi to New York. Your flight departs at 2:00 AM on a Monday and lands at 7:30 AM on the same day. However, your internal body clock thinks it’s now 5:00 PM on Monday with your mind preparing the body for sleep, even though it’s just the day’s beginning in the New York.
The symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person who can experience one or multiple of them. The symptoms can worsen if a person travels across two or more time zones. The symptoms include:
- Disturbed sleep in the form of insomnia, waking up early, or sleeping excessively
- Excessive daytime tiredness and fatigue
- Poor quality of sleep
- Difficulty in concentration
- Irritable mood
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Jet lag occurs when the sleep-wake cycle that is acclimatized to one’s home time zone is disturbed upon moving to a different time zone.
Long flights across multiple time zones can result in jet lag. Moreover, other bodily functions such as bowel and eating habits, energy levels, also get thrown out of whack as they are still synced to the original time zone.
Jet lag is temporary and doesn’t really require any treatment. The symptoms of jet lag will improve by themselves as the body starts acclimatizing to the new time zone. In case a person travels frequently to different time zones and jet lag starts to get unbearable, a doctor can prescribe a melatonin tablet or sleeping pills such as clonazepam, escitalopram, midazolam, zolpidem.
It is to note that these pills are addictive and should not be used over the prescribed time frame and dosage.
Ways to prevent jet lag
Prior to travelling try to adapt your sleep cycle to that of the time zone you will be travelling to. This can be done through light therapy to help adjust your circadian cycle to the new time zone.
Stay hydrated during your flight, stretch, walk around the cabin, and try to sleep when it is night at your destination. You could use an eye mask and earplugs if you have trouble sleeping on an airplane, while making sure not to consume caffeine or alcohol.
If you’re on a short trip of just 2-3 days, try to maintain the same sleep and eat schedule from your origin time zone to prevent jet lag when you return.