Travelling on a plane across time zones can wreak havoc with your sleeping patterns and jet lag can be a very real problem once you arrive at your destination. Jet lag can occur any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones and it can make you feel sleepy and sluggish with difficulties in concentration and function. This is a temporary problem but it can take a few days to recover from and it is generally worse when you lose hours traveling west to east.
Sidra’s Manager of the Sleep Disorder Center, Dr. Ola Asayed, has some great advice on how to deal with jet lag and get your body back to its normal rhythm:
• Using strategic exposure to bright light is the best tool to get back your circadian rhythm. Bright light exposure early in the morning helps improve daytime alertness and avoidance of bright light (including electronic screens) early in the evening helps with sleep efficiency.
• The timing of light exposure depends on direction of travel and number of time zones crossed.
When traveling eastwards if arriving early morning, avoid exposure to bright light but get as much light as possible in the late morning to early afternoon to synchronize your internal clock with the time zone. On westwards flights get bright morning light at your new destination and avoid afternoon light by wearing sunglasses on the drive home and evening light exposure.
• If possible, adjust your sleep schedule gradually before you travel with appropriately timed light exposure to improve sleep and daytime alertness. Five days before traveling, advance or delay your bedtime by one hour per night to synchronize with the destination time zone upon arrival. In addition, bedtime melatonin can assist with sleep and using caffeine in the morning assists with maintaining alertness until your circadian rhythm is back to normal.
• Children need longer hours of sleep and proper sleep hygiene is essential for their mood, growth and wellbeing. If travelling on a short trip, try to maintain your child’s sleep schedule on their home clock as much as possible. On long trips, maintain a regular sleep schedule with light exposure in the morning and light restriction in the evening, this includes avoiding exposure to LCD screens and hand held devices. A few days before you return home, the same process of training their internal clock one hour at a time to the destination schedule will prove beneficial and upon return strict light/dark control will shorten the recovery from jet lag.