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JetLag - the curse of the time traveller

By Adam Shelverton
Senior Rehabilitation Consultant

What is Jet Lag? Essentially jet lag is the result of your body struggling to adjust to new time zones and its effect on your sleep. The world is divided into 24 different time zones and when we cross these time zones our body’s natural 24 hour body clock is disrupted. The effects of jet lag can be small or unnoticeable on short haul flights (across fewer than 3 timezones) but the more time zones you cross the worse the jet lag can become.


What are the effects?

Disruption of your natural body clock and disruption of your sleep pattern can make you tired, lethargic and sometimes confused. Disruption of your body clock/biological clock in turn disrupts your normal waking pattern which controls when you feel tired and hungry – this in turn can affect your appetite, digestion, bowel habits. Other effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Lethargy
  • Bladder irregularity – eg. Your body clock won’t recognise that it’s night and you should be sleeping instead of being interrupted

Jet lag is generally worse when flying East where we lose time. Our bodies are better at coping with an increase in time (flying west) rather than a reduction . It is a lot easier to go to sleep an hour later than it is to get up an hour earlier.

What can we do to treat it?

Prevention is better than a cure – which seems appropriate as there is no quick fix for Jet lag at present.

The good news is the symptoms of jet lag will normally resolve within 2 days once your body clock has adjusted to the new time zone.

Melatonin is a hormone that your body releases in the evening, it’s a hormone that help prepare your body and brain for sleep. Melatonin production stops in daylight to help you to wake up. Your natural body clock is controlled and kept in balance by both daylight and the Melatonin released in your body.

Some jet lag remedies contain Melatonin to try and help you body to sleep at night when it is having trouble adjusting. Melatonin is most effective when taken 3 hours before you want to sleep but unfortunately there is little evidence to support the use of Melatonin supplements.

Before you travel:

  • Get enough sleep before you travel – flying tired can only make jet lag worse.
  • Keep your stress levels low – stress and anxiety can aggravate jet lag
  • Change your sleep routine before you fly – try and adapt your sleep routine to your destination eg if you're flying east go to bed and hour earlier if your flying west the opposite

In flight:

  • Hydration – ensure you are well hydrated
  • Caffeine – avoid caffeine well before you plan to sleep
  • Avoid alcohol – alcohol will de-hydrate you and effect your sleep
  • Rest – yes you should try and adapt to the new time zone as soon as possible but during the flight take short naps if you are tired as tiredness can exacerbate jet lag symptoms
  • Change your watch time – change the time on your watch to the time of your destination as soon as possible. This will help you adapt to the new time zone better both physically and psychologically.

Top Tip:

  • Ear plugs and eye mask – on a busy flight adopting the time zone of your destination can be difficult if your fellow passengers are not of the same viewpoint so these can make a big difference.

Your contact

Your contact

Adam Shelverton

Adam Shelverton

Rehabilitation Manager

Tel: +44 (113) 2906321