How to defend yourself from jet lag

Whatever the name, desynchronosis, time zone sickness, or jet lag, anyone who is often travelling over medium-long distances, crossing several time zones in a short time – or merely works the graveyard shift – knows well that the feeling of alteration caused by the misalignment of the body’s biological clock should not be underestimated.
The effects of jet lag have been the object of several studies, especially with the increase in recent times of the number of long-distance trips. The 2017 publication by Santa Monica Clinical Trials, a well-known center in California specializing in research and analysis of sleep disturbances, lists in a clear and effective way the many symptoms associated with the phenomenon, but to the fair there are many other works on the same subject.
Jet lag manifests itself when travelling from East to West and from West to East (in this case the effects are more pronounced). It may be exacerbated by a North-South displacement (or vice-versa) because of the forced adaptation to a sudden change in season, but a North-South displacement is not in itself a cause of jet lag, which is due instead to the disruption of the day/night (in other words of light/darkness) cycle, which desynchronizes the activity of the brain cells because of alterations in hormonal levels and body temperature, leading to the appearance of the first symptoms. Jet leg is far less evident in children, who recover almost always much faster, and unfortunately becomes worse with age: the hope that, with time, the body grows used to it is therefore vain. It may affect people who are in poorer physical shape and those who suffer from specific conditions such as diabetes, pulmonary pathologies, or cardio-circulatory problems more: in such cases it is always best to consult the doctor before a long flight.

In addition to the overall general malaise, symptoms of jet lag include:

  • Headache and an overall feeling of heaviness
  • Insomnia, lethargy, listlessness
  • State of slight confusion, difficulty of concentration, depressed humor
  • Loss of appetite and gastro-intestinal disorders

There is no proper remedy, but some precautions may help travelers to mitigate the symptoms and reduce their duration (generally one week):

  • Where possible, choose flights that land late in the afternoon at the destination, so that one goes to bed “normally” in the evening hours
  • Prepare the body in advance during the days that precede the flight: in case of eastbound flights wake up and go to sleep earlier than usual, and in case of westbound flights wake up and go to sleep later than usual
  • During the flight, set the watch to the destination time immediately, keeping well hydrated while staying well away from alcoholic drinks or coffee, and trying to perform some stretching exercises or taking strolls along the aisles of the aircraft
  • During the flight, when it’s evening at the destination try to sleep with the help of a face mask and ear plugs, but avoid long naps at all other times
  • After landing, eat light meals and go to sleep when evening comes, while trying to make the best use of sunlight’s energy to realign the biological clock.

Similarly, as confirmed by targeted studies, melatonin may help, taken in the right doses and at the right times, starting two-three days before the departure and continuing for two-three days after arrival.

This solution works for many, but not for all, and may have side effects in case of long term use, and there may be fields of application/exclusion that have not yet been targeted by specific research: for those willing to try, therefore, it is recommended to consult the doctor in advance.
As for the rest, it is really just a matter of waiting for the body to adapt and find its rhythm again, possibly being careful to arrange one’s activities by taking into account the inevitable fatigue of the first few days.


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