Jet lag is otherwise known as desynchronosis and is a disruption to your sleep-wake pattern. It is a temporary sleep disorder, typical of those who make long trips by plane. The disorder occurs when you travel great distances in a short time frane and subsequently change time zones very quickly. Your internal clock that marks your biological functions including sleep and wakefulness is altered. It usually takes a few days to find your rhythm again, but there are some useful remedies and tricks that help to deal with jet lag by minimizing the negative effects. We spoke with Dr. Lara Fratticci, a specialist in Neurology at Humanitas.
What causes jet lag?
“Jet lag is caused by an alteration of circadian rhythms and a phase shift of our internal clock. From a neurological point of view there is an increase in reticular formation of the central nervous system, which controls wakefulness, circadian rhythm and the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate the sleep-wake cycle”, explains Dr Fratticci. “Normally the circadian’s rhythm of sleep blends in two processes: the first ( process C ), with continued growth from 22 to 3 hours or so, gradually leads to the active waking, whose peak is during the morning; the second (D process) during the day induces a growing need to sleep. When crossing multiple time zones, the internal clock that scans and harmonizes these processes de-synchronizes”.
What are the effects?
“Especially excessive sleepiness during the day, difficulty to fall asleep and rest at night, also a slight feeling of malaise. The consequences can also be headache, difficulty concentrating, constipation and dyspepsia, because even meal times are changed. The effects however are subjective: a lot depends on the persons ability to adapt, the country where you are and by environmental, dietary and behavioral factors. The number of trips made in the past counts as well. With time the brain learns to react better, but there is also the possibility that the jet lag will become a chronic problem”.
How to deal with jet lag
“You have to adapt to the times of the new country, avoiding daytime naps, and instead trying to regulate the time when you lay down at night. It is important to ensure a healthy sleep cycle. The room where you sleep must be dark and silent, for example, no TV on. The light in fact, through the retina, sends pulses to the diencephalon interfering with the secretion of melatonin, a key hormone for the regulation of sleep. It is also good to avoid cigarettes, coffee, stimulants and heavy or high calorie meals in the evening hours. Instead you can implement a diet rich in rice, pasta and foods containing fructose and sucrose. These aid the absorption of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the synthesis of serotonin, another hormone which has an important role in the regulation of sleep. The advice is to try to get used to the new time zone naturally and spontaneously and if the adaptation proves to be difficult or take too long, eventually resort to remedies that eliminate or mitigate the effects of jet lag”.
Do melatonin supplements help? What are some other remedies?
“Melatonin is helpful – continues Dr. Fratticci – It is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm. It’s natural release is stimulated by darkness, therefore the levels peak at night and drop during the day. Taking it as a supplement helps to resynchronize the sleep-wake cycle in a natural way. You can take it every day, 30 minutes before bedtime during your stay in the new time zone. One can continue the same routine upon return for about a week. If jet lag also causes recurrent headaches take magnesium pills in the morning and you can resort to painkillers avoiding abuse. If melatonin was not sufficient, you may use other sleep medication in combination or alternatively, taking them half an hour before going to bed in the evening”.
Is there a way to prevent jet lag?
“To the extent possible – concludes Dr. Fratticci – you can prevent the effects of jet lag by adapting gradually to the time zone of your destination country even before departure, so postponing (if you go to the west ) or anticipating (if you go to the east ) half an hour a day the time when you lay down and your alarm time. Even mealtimes can be gradually adapted to that of the destination country. Other useful devices to be implemented before departure are to follow a proper diet (preferring carbohydrates and sugars), hydrate properly, reduce coffee and avoid alcohol. It helps to finally spend the journey relaxing and resting as much as possible”.