How to manage jet lag

Jet lag and travel fatigue

Jet lag occurs when rapid travel creates a mismatch between your internal circadian rhythm (biological clock that controls when you wake and sleep) and the external time at your destination.

The symptoms of jet lag are familiar to many of us – disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Travelling east is harder to adjust to than travelling west – for physiological reasons. And, jet lag can occur with as little as a 3-hour time difference.

Travel fatigue on the other hand is a non-specific fatigue caused by immobility, dehydration and other travel-related factors regardless of time zones crossed. To avoid travel fatigue it is helpful to minimise caffeine and alcohol intake, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and move around regularly.

How to manage jet lag

The use of Melatonin and bright light has been shown to help some people adjust faster to changes in time zones. Read our guidelines on the use of Melatonin. The following guidelines are designed to help your adjust more quickly to a change in time zone.

Westward travel – less than 8 time zones (eg Sydney to India)
  • Upon arrival, seek exposure to bright light in the evening
  • If you are awake at 3.00 am local/destination time, try a small dose of Melatonin (0.5 mg during the second half of the night) to shift your body clock to a later time until you have adapted to local time
Westward travel Р more than 8 time zones (eg Sydney to Europe/UK )
  • For the first 2 days after arrival, avoid bright light for 2-3 hours before dusk. Starting on the third day seek bright light in the evenings
  • If you are awake at 3.00 am local/destination time, try a small dose of Melatonin (0.5 mg during the second half of the night) to shift your body clock until you have adapted to local time
Eastward travel – less than 8 time zones (eg Sydney to Los Angeles)
  • Upon arrival seek exposure to bright light in the morning
  • To promote shifting of the body clock to an earlier time, take 0.5-3.0 mg of Melatonin nightly until you have adapted. The higher dose is due to the increased physiological difficulty in adjusting the body clock in flying east
Eastward travel – more than 8 time zones (eg Sydney to New York )
  • For the first 2 days after arrival, avoid bright light for 2-3 hours after dawn. Starting on the third day, seek bright light in the morning
  • To promote shifting of the body clock to an earlier time, take 0.5-3.0 mg of Melatonin nightly until you have adapted. The higher dose is due to the increased physiological difficulty in adjusting the body clock in flying east

NOTES

  • Melatonin in these doses is available by prescription only. Pharmacies may try and sell homeopathic preparations but this will not be evidence based Melatonin.
  • You can check the number of time zones you are travelling on the internet.

Before you travel

If going west …

  • Go to sleep at home 1-2 hours later than your usual bedtime for a few days before leaving
  • Seek exposure to bright light in the evenings

If travelling east …

  • Go to bed an hour or 2 earlier than usual for a few days
  • Seek bright light in the mornings before leaving

Other tips

  • Short 20-30 minute naps during the day of your arrival if you are sleep deprived after your flight
  • Sleeping pills are also reasonable to promote sleep on the plane and to initiate sleep upon arrival
  • If you can, travel business or first class

Bon voyage and safe flying!

For further information …

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