Sleep Problems: Dealing With Jet Lag
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You love your ranch in Montana but were long overdue for a vacation—this time to London. On travel day, the flight was smooth.
You imagined seeing the sights, visiting museums, and maybe even touring Buckingham Palace.
But your vacation hasn't started out so well. You can't sleep, you're tired, and your stomach is giving you problems.
You have jet lag.
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Jet lag may make it hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or stay awake during the day. Lack of sleep can make you feel tired or tense and make it hard for you to focus. You may feel weak, or you may lose your appetite. You may not be able to have a bowel movement (constipation), or you may have diarrhea.
The symptoms of jet lag take a few days to go away:1
Jet lag can happen to anyone. Your age, fitness, health, and how often you fly don't make a difference in whether you get it.
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Symptoms of jet lag include:
Having a hard time with falling asleep, staying asleep, or staying awake.
Feeling tired and tense and not being able to focus.
Not feeling like eating.
You may get jet lag when you fly across one or more time zones. This happens when you fly east to west or west to east. When you fly north to south or south to north, you don't cross time zones, so you don't get jet lag.
Crossing time zones disrupts your body's "biological clock," or 24-hour rhythms (circadian rhythms). You have symptoms because your biological clock has not adjusted to the new time zone. Your body thinks that you're still in your old time zone.
For example, if you fly from Chicago to Rome, you cross seven time zones. This means that Rome is 7 hours ahead of Chicago. When you land in Rome at 6:00 in the morning, your body thinks it's still in Chicago at 11:00 the previous night. Your body wants to sleep, but in Rome the day is just starting.
Other things besides your wake/sleep cycle are affected. You may not be hungry at dinnertime in Rome, but you may be very hungry in the middle of the day. Your bowel movements may be on a different schedule than normal.
As your body adjusts to the time change, the symptoms go away.
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You can get jet lag when you:
Take a long road trip.
Fly across one or more time zones.
Fly north or south.
You can't cure jet lag, but you may be able to reduce the symptoms using the hormone supplement melatonin and sleeping pills. Other treatments besides medicines have not been studied or have been studied very little, but they may be worth trying.
Melatonin and sleeping pills
Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes. It regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then go down early in the morning.
Taking melatonin may help "reset" your biological clock. Studies show that it has reduced the symptoms of jet lag for people flying both east and west.2
Suggestions about times and dosages vary among researchers who have studied melatonin. Doctors recommend that you:
The safety and effectiveness of melatonin have not been thoroughly tested. Taking large doses of it may cause sleep disruption and daytime fatigue. If you have epilepsy or are taking blood thinners such as coumadin (Warfarin), talk to your doctor before you use melatonin.
The sleeping pills eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zolpidem (Ambien) have been studied for jet lag. They may help you sleep despite jet lag if you take them before bedtime after you arrive at your destination. You may have side effects of headaches, dizziness, confusion, and feeling sick to your stomach.
Other things to do
None of the things in the following lists have been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them helpful.
Before you go, and on the plane
When you arrive
If you have an important meeting or athletic event, try to arrive a few days early so your body can adjust to the new time zone.
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To cure jet lag, you can use melatonin before or after you travel.
Now that you have read this information, you may be able to reduce symptoms of jet lag. Talk to your doctor about other things you might be able to do.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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