What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is a temporary condition that causes a number of symptoms including disturbed sleep patterns, digestion problems and a lack of energy (fatigue) following air travel across a number of time zones.

It’s now possible to fly to countries around the world in a matter of hours. If you fly across several different time zones, your body’s normal circadian rhythms (also known as your body clock) can be disrupted. Your circadian rhythms control the timing of routine functions, such as eating and sleeping. When you arrive at your destination after a long flight, your body clock can take a number of days to adjust to the new rhythm of daylight and darkness and this is called jet lag.

Symptoms of Jet Lag –

The symptoms of jet lag are different for everyone. It also depends on how far you have flown, how many time zones you have crossed and in which direction you have travelled.

Most people with jet lag feel tired but can’t drop off to sleep at the right times. You might find that you’re awake and alert late at night and feel very tired during the day time.

Other symptoms of jet lag include:

  • indigestion
  • disturbed digestion and bowel habits
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory problems
  • clumsiness
  • feeling generally unwell
  • lack of energy (fatigue)
  • increased frequency of headaches
  • irritability

What is the cause of Jet Lag?

Jet lag is caused by a disruption to your body clock. Your body clock gets used to a regular rhythm of daylight and darkness and travelling to a different time zone disrupts this.

The world is divided into 24 time zones based around Greenwich meridian in London, UK. The time changes by one hour for every 15 degrees travelled in either direction from here.

If you travel over three time zones you are at risk of jet lag. This means that if you fly from the UK to Europe, Africa or the Middle East you probably won’t be affected by jet lag. However, you may have symptoms if you’re travelling from the UK to the following regions:

  • Asia
  • Australasia
  • the Pacific islands
  • the US and Canada
  • Central and South America

Jet lag tends to be more of a problem if you’re flying east because your body finds it harder to adjust to a slightly shorter day than a slightly longer one.

If you’re an older traveller or you have a strict routine, you may suffer more from jet lag. Children and babies are less likely to show symptoms of jet lag because they can usually sleep at any time.

There are a number of things that can make jet lag worse, including:

  • dehydration
  • tiredness
  • lack of sleep
  • alcohol
  • stress

How can I Prevent and treat Jet Lag?

There are a number of measures you can take to try and prevent jet lag.

Self-help

Before you travel you can try:

  • getting up and going to bed earlier if you’re flying east
  • getting up and going to bed later if you’re flying west

While in the air:

  • adjust your watch to the destination time as soon as you get on the plane
  • make sure you drink enough fluids (not alcohol or caffeinated drinks)
  • move about as often as you can

When you arrive:

  • try to get into a routine immediately – caffeine is a stimulant that is frequently used to maintain daytime alertness
  • spend the daytime outdoors, as natural light can help your body clock adjust
  • take some exercise every day

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