Traveling for your dream vacation or an important business trip often requires flying to different time zones. Our bodies can have trouble adjusting, especially when we cross three or more time zones in one day. This results in circadian desynchrony, a phenomenon more commonly known as jet lag.
In the past, jet lag was merely considered a state of mind. Today, it is classified as one of the most common sleep disorders. Our circadian rhythm can be measured by certain biological conditions, including a distinct change in body temperature and plasma levels of hormones. Those conditions help our body determine when to sleep and when we should be awake.
The symptoms of jet lag vary by individual, but the most common include:
- Exhaustion during the day
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Changes in appetite
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
As you can imagine, these symptoms will put a damper on any trip. Jet lag is also known to affect people after they return home from their travels.
No treatment can instantly shift a person’s circadian rhythm to align with a new time zone. However, taking certain steps before, during and after a trip can minimize the effect of jet lag.
Exposure to Sunlight
Circadian rhythms are influenced by sunlight. When traveling east, your biological clock falls behind. Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning and avoiding bright light in the evening can aid in resetting your biological clock to your current environment. When traveling west, the opposite may be helpful because your biological clock will be ahead. Bright light and exercise in the evening can help you stay awake later and sleep longer.
Substances like alcohol and caffeine are stimulants that prevent sleep. Having a glass of wine with dinner may be tempting, but it can affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This can hinder mental recovery from jet lag. Instead, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. It is also available as an over-the-counter option. It will not help the biological imbalance caused by jet lag, but it may help manage short-term insomnia when taken before bedtime.
Consult a Medical Professional
Seeking advice from a doctor before or after a trip is the best way to customize your recovery plan. They can recommend best practices, determine treatment options, and possibly prescribe medications to help with your transition.
At PCCMA, we specialize in treating circadian rhythm disorders like jet lag. To schedule an appointment, call us today at (717) 234-2561.