Oh, jet lag. The unavoidable yet inevitable and, let’s face it, irritating, side effect to travel. We hate it, you hate it, but are there any ways to make it more bearable? We asked Doctor Michel Adida, a specialist in health and travel, to give us the low-down on jet lag…
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is a set of symptoms experienced as a result of a trans-meridian journey – that is, the act of travelling from east to west or west to east, across several time zones. Generally, jet lag is only experienced on cross-country air journeys compared to other, slower, means of transport, like trains and boats.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
A certain level of fatigue is expected on all flights and many jet lag symptoms are also observed in north–south journeys without a time difference – simply put, travelling in cramped aircrafts with recycled air is tiring. The difference between general travel fatigue and jet lag is the desynchronisation of the biological clock, which manages the circadian rhythms of the body and mind. A normal 24-hour day is either extended with trips to the west or shortened when travelling to the east. The results of this disruption differ from person to person, but travellers can experience a whole array of symptoms, most commonly: night-time sleep disorders (difficulty getting to sleep or early awakening), daytime sleepiness, decreased physical and intellectual performance (including confusion and anxiety), and digestive disorders.
Can a short journey cause jet lag?
It can, depending on how many time zones you have crossed – generally a change of two or more can cause some disturbance, but it’s possible to feel jet lagged having just crossed one time zone. There’s also an individual sensitivity to jet lag, linked to how well your body is able to adapt to changes in daily routine – while some people can acclimatise almost instantly, for others it can take several days.
Is it possible to prepare ahead of time for jet lag?
The most effective solution to combat jet lag is to gradually adapt to the schedule of your destination ahead of your trip. For example, for a trip to the east, go to bed and get up at least an hour or two earlier in the days prior to your holiday, and later for a westward journey. When boarding the plane, change your watch to local time and sleep if it’s night-time at your destination – or stay awake if it’s not.
What’s the best way to deal with jet lag on arrival?
The most effective method to combat the symptoms of jet lag is to change your sleeping, eating and waking schedule to your new surroundings as quick as possible. Set alarms so you don’t sleep in and get outside in daylight to reset your body clock.
Is there a difference in jet lag when travelling from east to west or west to east?
Yes: the shortening of the day that comes with arrival in the east, which means you have to go to sleep prematurely, is said to cause more issues for the body than a longer day, and a delayed sleep, which comes when travelling to the west. Premature sleep can cause insomnia, which is consequently followed by fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
Is there special advice for children or the elderly?
Infants and young children are less sensitive than adults to the effects of jet lag – they generally sleep easier during flights and adapt quicker to local time. Broadly speaking, the elderly are often more tired and prone to sleep disorders, and can find it difficult to find their rhythm in a different time zone. It’s therefore arguably even more important for them to try to accustom their body clock to their destination’s schedule ahead of a holiday. Anyone with a medical issue or who is taking medication should consult with a doctor before travelling to discuss how best to adapt their medical schedule and needs to a new time zone.
Cover picture : Morgane Le Gall