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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Sleep Problems: Dealing With Jet Lag
You love your ranch in Montana but were long overdue for a vacation—this time to London. On travel day, the flight was smooth.
You imagined seeing the sights, visiting museums, and maybe even touring Buckingham Palace.
But your vacation hasn't started out so well. You can't
sleep, you're tired, and your stomach is giving you problems.
have jet lag.
Jet lag may make it hard for you to fall
asleep, stay asleep, or stay awake during the day. Lack of sleep can make you
feel tired or tense and make it hard for you to focus. You may feel weak, or
you may lose your appetite. You may not be able to have a bowel movement
(constipation), or you may have diarrhea.
The symptoms of jet lag
take a few days to go away:1
Jet lag can happen to anyone. Your age, fitness, health,
and how often you fly don't make a difference in whether you get it.
Symptoms of jet lag include:
problems; feeling tired, tense, and unfocused; and not having an appetite are
all symptoms of jet lag.
Continue to Why?
may get jet lag when you fly across one or more time zones. This happens when
you fly east to west or west to east. When you fly north to south or south to
north, you don't cross time zones, so you don't get jet lag.
Crossing time zones disrupts your body's "biological clock," or 24-hour
rhythms (circadian rhythms). You have symptoms because your
biological clock has not adjusted to the new time zone. Your body thinks that
you're still in your old time zone.
For example, if you fly from
Chicago to Rome, you cross seven time zones. This means that Rome is 7 hours
ahead of Chicago. When you land in Rome at 6:00 in the morning, your body
thinks it's still in Chicago at 11:00 the previous night. Your body wants to
sleep, but in Rome the day is just starting.
Other things besides
your wake/sleep cycle are affected. You may not be hungry at dinnertime in
Rome, but you may be very hungry in the middle of the day. Your bowel movements
may be on a different schedule than normal.
As your body adjusts
to the time change, the symptoms go away.
You can get jet lag when you:
When you take a long road trip, you may cross
time zones. But the time it takes to cross them allows your body to adjust. You
get jet lag when you cross time zones quickly, as you do in an airplane. All the answers are correct.
You can get jet lag when you fly across time
zones. This happens when you fly east or west. All the answers are correct.
You can get jet lag when you fly east or west
across time zones. When you fly north or south, you don't cross time
zones. All the answers are correct.
Continue to How?
You can't cure jet
lag, but you may be able to reduce the symptoms using the hormone supplement
melatonin and sleeping pills. Other treatments besides medicines have not been
studied or have been studied very little, but they may be worth trying.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body
makes. It regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Normally, melatonin
levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the
night, and then go down early in the morning.
may help "reset" your biological clock. Studies show that it has reduced the
symptoms of jet lag for people flying both east and west.2
Suggestions about times and dosages vary among
researchers who have studied melatonin. Doctors recommend that you:
The safety and effectiveness of melatonin have not been
thoroughly tested. Taking large doses of it may cause sleep disruption and
daytime fatigue. If you have
epilepsy or are taking
blood thinners such as coumadin (Warfarin), talk to
your doctor before you use melatonin.
The sleeping pills eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zolpidem (Ambien) have been
studied for jet lag. They may help you sleep despite jet lag if you take them
before bedtime after you arrive at your destination.
You may have side effects of headaches, dizziness, confusion, and feeling sick
to your stomach.
None of the things in the
following lists have been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them
If you have an important meeting or athletic event, try
to arrive a few days early so your body can adjust to the new time zone.
To cure jet lag, you can use melatonin before or after you
Nothing has been proved to prevent or cure jet
lag. Melatonin may help reduce symptoms.
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this
information, you may be able to reduce symptoms of jet lag. Talk to your doctor
about other things you might be able to do.
Return to topic:
Waterhouse J, et al. (2007). Jet lag: Trends and
coping strategies. Lancet, 369(9567):
Herxheimer A (2008). Jet lag, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
December 1, 2011
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
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