JET-LAG, Dr. Meltem Ayran | 17.05.2014

In this article, I want to talk about the travel junkie’s nightmare that is jetlag. Jetlag can be best described as the biological confusion that reigns when the body’s internal clock is at odds with the one at the destination.

An example: you feel like jumping on a plane to New York, and Turkish Airlines flight no. TK3 on an A330 takes off at 7.25am. When you get off the plane it’s around 11.30am but your watch says 18.30pm. For now, no problem. Yet, jetlag is sneaking up on you… at around 16.00pm in New York City, Istanbul time will be midnight, and you need to be active when your body wants to sleep!

Maybe you’re in New York for a few short days on vacation or business trip. What to do? If you cede control and let your body do what it wants, it will adjust to the 8-hour time difference in about 4-5 days – and suffering from jetlag for that long is no fun!

Normally, a body’s biological clock will adjust to the local time, but only once the body has adjusted will your biological clock reset. Our biological clock is governed from our brain by the lentil-sized pineal gland, which produces the hormone melatonin, responsible for regulating our sleep patterns. Melatonin levels increase at night in the dark and reduce by morning light. Appetite, bowel movements, blood pressure, and body temperature are all thus regulated, as are many other bodily functions.

What are the symptoms of jetlag?

  • Sleeplessness, broken sleep, and fatigue are the principal problems.
  • Listlessness, constipation or diarrhea, bowel disorders, loss of appetite, tension, difficulty concentrating, headaches, memory lapses, blood pressure fluctuations, menstrual irregularities, nausea, and decreased immunity are all additional problems.

Who gets hit by jetlag the most?

  • Almost everyone is affected.
  • People who have regular sleeping hours, the tired, the sleepless, those who do not drink enough water and are dehydrated, people over 60, and people with chronic illnesses are generally very affected.
  • Children are less affected as they can sleep at different times of the day.
  •  The severity of jetlag’s effects depend on how many time zones are crossed, and in which direction (east or west). Flying eastwards presents more difficulties.
  • Long flights can affect the duration and severity of jetlag: not sleeping enough on the plane; long exposure in a low oxygen cabin; long periods in the same position; eating at irregular hours; dehydration due to the cabin atmosphere, drinking coffee and/or alcohol.

What can we do to cope with jetlag?

  • To cope with jetlag, i.e. adjust quickly to the new time zone, the most important rule is to live according to your new time. Go to bed, eat, sleep, go to work, according to your destination.
  • A little planning before flying can be effective. A few days before flying, work your body: if going west go to bed 1-2 hours later, if going east wake up 1-2 hours earlier. This will help adjustment.
  • If you use medication, insulin, or for high blood pressure for example, consult a doctor.
  • The day before traveling, during travel, and the day after, avoid alcoholic drinks. Alcohol in the body will dehydrate, disturb sleep, and cause nausea.
  • Like alcohol, caffeine should be avoided. It causes similar problems and can make other problems (such as a fear of flying) worse.
  • Due to low humidity on the plane and dehydration, it is important to drink lots of water.
  • On long flights, turning off the lights and total darkness help the body adjust.
  • Wear comfortable clothing on the flight, try to take a walk on the plane once an hour, or at least move your legs. This will lessen the risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms that can occur due to inertia.
  • Some people use melatonin to adjust their body’s metabolism to sleep. Melatonin isn’t sleep medication. People who use it say they suffer less jetlag and less severe symptoms. But there haven’t been enough studies on it. You should consult a doctor before using melatonin, especially if for example you use blood thinners or suffer from epilepsy.
  • Some travelers may benefit from the use of sleeping pills; but they are not recommended for more than a few days as they are habit-forming.

Wishing you a healthy and jetlag free flight.

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