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How to deal with jet lag

Jet lag, commonly referred to as jet-lag disorder, flight fatigue or de-synchronosis is a sleep disorder that can affect people who travel across different times zones. This movement across multiple zones confuses the internal body clock, with common symptoms including insomnia and disrupted eating patterns. Frequent business travellers will likely find themselves having to deal with this problem a lot. Here are the common causes of jet lag, and what you can do to minimise the affects of the condition and have a productive business trip.

Causes of jet lag

Here are some of the main causes of jet lag

  • Disruption of the circadian rhythms
  • The influence of sunlight (related to circadian rhythms)
  • Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere

Disruption of circadian rhythms

As anyone who has taken a long haul flight will know, passing quickly through several time zones often results in the body clock — which is in charge of regulating sleep cycles — to become out of sync with the local time in the new location. Someone leaving New York on Tuesday at 4.00p.m on board an airplane to Paris and arriving on Wednesday at 7.00a.m will actually be experiencing the day as though it were 1 o'clock in the morning and will likely be ready to go to sleep at a moment when people in Paris are waking up. The sleep cycle together with other body functions like bowel habits and hunger will remain out of step with the rest of the new locale for several days as the body adjusts.

The effect of sunlight

A major influence on someone's inner body clock is sunlight. Sunlight has an influence on the regulation of melatonin and it is this hormone that synchronises cells in the body. Cells located in the retina transmit light signals to the hypothalamus in the brain. At night, when light is dim, the hypothalamus signals the pineal gland to produce the melatonin. During the day, the reverse process takes place. You can easily speed up the adjustment to the local time by getting a hearty dose of daylight.

Airline cabin pressure and atmosphere

Research has shown that changes in altitudes and cabin pressure associated with air travel can contribute to some of the symptoms of jet lag. This is often irrespective of whether one travels across different time zones or not. Additionally, dehydration during flights is common as planes have low levels of humidity and this can be a big contributing factor to the symptoms of jet lag.

Risk factors

There are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing jet lag. These include:

  • The number of time zones you cross - Naturally, the more time zones you cross, the higher the chances are of experiencing jet lag.
  • Flying towards the east - It may be somehow hard to fly toward the east as compared to flying towards the west. This is because, as you fly towards the east, you effectively "lose" time while flying towards the west causes you to "gain" time.
  • Flying frequently - People who travel frequently, like business travellers, pilots and flight attendants are of course at higher risk of experiencing jet lag.
  • Older adults - Older adults may take a lot of time to get out of jet lag when compared to younger adults.

What are other symptoms of jet lag?

Jet-lag has varying signs and symptoms. You might experience only one or many symptoms at a particular time. Some of the common associated symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems like excessive sleeping, waking up early or insomnia.
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Reduced level of concentration.
  • Stomach problems, diarrhoea or constipation.
  • A general feeling of being unwell.
  • Changes in the moods.

However awful you may feel, remember - Jet lag is a temporary condition. If you frequently travel across time zones for work or business, you may find yourself continually struggling with the condition. In this case, is always advised to seek help from a qualified sleep specialist.

Preventing jet lag

There are a few remedial steps that can be taken to prevent jet lag from occurring or to at least mitigate its effects:

  • Arrive early. If you have an important event that requires you to be in top form, it's advisable to arrive a couple of days earlier so as to give the body enough time to adjust.
  • Have enough rest during the trip. Get some sleep and rest during the flight so as to avoid having post-flight sleep-deprivation.
  • Slowly adjust your schedule before leaving - If you will be traveling east, start going to bed much earlier in the days immediately leading up to your departure. If you are travelling west, go to bed much later than usual.
  • Regulate exposure to bright light. There is a close relationship between light-exposure and the regularity of our circadian rhythms. Regulating exposure to light can help mitigate the effects of jet lag.
  • Stay hydrated - Take a lot of water before, during and after the flight. This helps to cancel the dehydrating effect of the dry air in the cabin. Dehydration can worsen the symptoms of jet lag.

Following these practical suggestions can help you to minimise the affects of jet lag and stay productive on your business trip. Another important way to ensure peace of mind when on your business trip is to take out a travel insurance policy. Check out the business travel insurance page for more information.

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