JET LAG 1. (noun) a condition that is characterized by various psychological and physiological effects after a long flight through several time zones

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Jet lag is an imbalance in our body's “biological clock” caused by traveling to different time zones. When switched to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms (our bodies' 24-hour cycle that regulates plasma levels of certain hormones, body temperature, and other biological factors) is slow to adjust. As a result, travelers may want to wake up even though it's the middle of the night, or to sleep during the day.

IT'S UGLY

Don't plan key business meetings immediately upon arrival. The symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, insomnia, disorientation, ear/nose/eye irritations, headaches, and lightheadedness.

NO QUICK FIX

While a person's general health, personal habits, and age are thought to play a role in susceptibility to jet lag, it can take as long as one day to adjust for each time zone you cross. Many sufferers consider flying east to be harder than flying west.

DRACULA HORMONE

Melatonin is a hormone made by your body's pineal gland. During the day, the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down, it begins to produce melatonin, which makes you feel less alert and more interested in sleep. Melatonin is sold as a supplement at health food stores and may help to decrease jet lag when taken at bedtime. It has been shown in studies to help reset the body's circadian rhythms, but it has not been proven as a sleeping aid. Consult your physician before taking.

AN EAST-WEST ISSUE

You might feel lousy after the eight-hour flight from New York to Lima, Peru, but don't call it jet lag. New York and Lima are in the same time zone, and jet lag only occurs when crossing time zones. Of course, that doesn't mean that travelers don't suffer. Dehydration, swelling, stiffness, and motion sickness all contribute to the discomfort of long-distance air travel.

SEVEN TIPS

Here are some suggestions for before, during, and after your flight that may lessen the effects of jet lag.

  • Go to bed earlier for a few nights before leaving on an eastbound trip. Go to bed later for a few nights before traveling west.

  • As soon as you board the plane, adjust your watch (and your mind-set) to your destination's time zone.

  • Drink lots of liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

  • Avoid exercise close to bedtime.

  • Bring earplugs and a blindfold to help you sleep.

  • At your destination, spend time in the sun. Light is extremely helpful in regulating the biological clock.



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Sources: The National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org; MedlinePlus, a service of the U. S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov; www.doctor-travel.com; Merriam-Webster Online, www.m-w.com