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Avoid Jet Lag On Your Next Vacation

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If you’ve ever traveled by airline across time zones, chances are good that you’ve experienced jet lag — symptoms that arise when your body’s normal circadian rhythm is disrupted during flights. The most obvious symptom of jet lag is sleepiness, but other symptoms can include delayed response time, irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, constipation or diarrhea, headache, nausea, sweating and coordination difficulty.

The symptoms tend to be worse when people travel to airports east through time zones, thereby “losing” time. The larger the time zone difference is, the more severe your symptoms may be. It’s temporary, usually resolving itself within a week, but there are things you can do to prevent or cope with jet lag.

  • Try melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body but is also available in over-the-counter supplement form. It is helpful in regulating the circadian system, also known as the body’s “internal clock.” A 2008 study in the medical journal Travel and Infectious Disease determined that melatonin supplements can ease the symptoms of jet lag. “Although post-flight melatonin administration works efficiently in transmeridian flights across less than seven-to-eight time zones, in the case of longer distances, melatonin should be given two-to-three days in advance to the flight,” the researchers advise. An appropriate dose may be 2-to-5 milligrams shortly before bedtime.
  • Begin adjusting to your new schedule a few weeks before you travel, if possible. Go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, or the reverse, slowly working your way toward the new time zone. Try to adjust by one hour per week. It’s not advisable to change your schedule by more than an hour per day.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Sleep doctor Carlos Schenck, author of „Sleep: The Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions,“ says: “People sometimes make their jet lag worse by using caffeine on an airplane when they should be trying to sleep or they use alcohol as a sleep aid that will then backfire by giving them a short, inefficient sleep.” Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect, which can worsen symptoms of jet lag.
  • Get comfortable on the plane. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes on the airplane and use earplugs or headphones to help you drown out noise and get some sleep. If you’re already overtired before you even step off the plane, you’re off to a bad start. Resist the urge to work or read during the flight; get as much sleep as you can.

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