Jet lag can take many forms. Sometimes you are completely wiped out for a day or two after your long distance plane trip. Other times you may feel fine for the first couple days, but just as you are thinking that it hasn’t got you this time, it hits and messes up a whole week with sleepless nights and drowsy days.
And it’s not just sleep. You may also have digestive disturbances, headaches and possibly some depression.
The medical term for jet lag is desynchronosis. It happens when there is disturbance to the natural circadian rhythms of the body that tell us when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. These relate to daylight and they are adjustable, so if we cross time zones in a car, for example, we usually do it slow enough for our body to adjust. But a plane can cross several time zones in one day, and that can take a while to recover from.
On average, the recovery time is about 1 day per time zone crossed, although some people find it worse traveling east. A time zone is counted as one hour of time difference. So traveling from New York to Los Angeles (east to west, 3 time zones) you could expect to recover in 3 days. But traveling from New York to Lima in Peru (north to south), there would be no jet lag at all because they are in the same time zone, even though it’s a longer flight.
Medication Jet Lag Remedies
The main medication that is used to treat jet lag is the hormone melatonin. This is available without prescription in the USA, although a prescription is required in many other countries. It works best when you are traveling east. Take one dose of melatonin around 6.30 pm the day before your flight, then take it at around 9.30 pm for the first four evenings at your destination.
Non-Medication Jet Lag Remedies
Light can be used as a natural remedy for jet lag. 30 minutes of sunlight or bright light therapy (including use of anti seasonal depression lights) is enough. Use light therapy in the morning to adjust to a new rhythm where you have traveled east. Use it at midday to mid afternoon if you are having trouble staying awake at those times.
You can also use your diet to help. Generally speaking, protein-rich meals help us to stay awake, while carbohydrates make us sleepy. So avoid carbohydrates at breakfast and lunch while recovering from jet lag, and then have a carbohydrate-rich, low protein dinner around 6 or 7 pm. This should help you sleep at night and can be one of the most effective jet lag remedies.