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Travel Wellness: Dealing with Jet Lag Naturally If you have travelled by plane for work or pleasure, you

probably have experienced jet lag. Jet lag is created because planes can fly across time zones quickly. You end up being placed into a time zone that is out of synch with your own body clock. Your body clock runs on about a 25 hour cycle. This is controlled by a complex series of hormonal and brain functions. One of the more important controllers is your adrenal gland release of cortisol. Each day you have a surge of cortisol hormone in the morning that gradually tapers off during the afternoon and evening. Another important hormone is melatonin which is produced in the pineal gland of the brain. Melatonin release corresponds to light exposure, increasing in the late evening and then diminishing. And there are other neurotransmitter chemicals produced in the brain that fill their receptors throughout the day, and then reset each night after you sleep. These hormonal patterns help reinforce your circadian rhythm or body clock. Jet lag is simply the time it takes for your body to adjust to the sudden change in your location. These hormones respond to the time the sun rises and sets. For most people, changing the timing of these hormones may take a few days. During that time period you will be transitioning from your usual time clock to the new one. Meal times, waking time, and sleep patterns can all be disturbed. Additionally, you may experience headache, fatigue, and poor concentration. How you deal with jet lag symptoms depends largely on the duration of your trip. If you are on a short trip of 2 days or less, you should try to maintain your base time zone cycle as much as possible. Try to sleep at your home time period, and try to wake when you normally would in accordance with your clock at home. Keep your meal patterns aligned in this way as well. Sometimes this is not possible due to meeting schedules, but try to not adjust to the new time zone. For longer trips, you will want to shift to the new time. If you happen to be travelling westward, the good news is that this will be easier. Because your body normally wants to be on a 25 hour schedule, adding hours is relatively easier. Dehydration, stress, and loss of sleep can all make adjustment more difficult. Avoid alcohol and caffeine to help reduce dehydration. Because the hormone melatonin rises before sleep, you may wish to try taking melatonin supplements to help align your sleep clock. Many experts recommend a 0.5 3 mg dose by mouth about at the time you would like to go to sleep. Melatonin is one of the most studied treatments for jet lag. At least 11 double blind, placebo-controlled trials have been done, with 8 showing melatonin provided significant benefit for jet lag symptoms.i An important strategy to help jet lag is to begin your transition prior to your trip. For a few days prior to your flight begin going to sleep either 1-2 hours before, or after, your usual bedtime according to the time at your destination. Get a good amount of sleep the day before you travel. During the flight remember to take plenty of fluids. If possible, try to sleep on the flight. Use a short acting sleeping pill if you are prescribed one by your health care provider. You might want to avoid this type of medicine if you have a risk to develop leg clots. When you arrive, make sure you get plenty of natural light exposure. This will be more helpful in the morning if you are travelling east, and the evening if you go west. Try not to take too much caffeine (especially later in the day) as it may disturb your sleep cycle.

And finally, you may wish to consult with your colleagues who travel frequently. Many experienced travelers have personal tips about how to deal with the difficulties of jet lag.

Robert L. Sack, M.D. Jet Lag. New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 362:440-447 February 4, 2010.