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Health & Wellness

Jet Lag: Here's How To Prevent And Treat The Worst Part Of Travel


Many of you travelers will reach your summer vacation spot by plane, and for some, that will mean jet lag. And the more time zones you cross, the worse your symptoms can be.

However, there are possible ways to avoid the downsides of a long flight.

Dr. Manisha Raja is lead physician at Parkland Hospital System’s Grand Prairie Health Center.

Interview Highlights:

What is jet lag? "Jet lag is a disruption in the circadian rhythm, which is our 24-hour biological rhythm controlled by our internal clock, and usually occurs after traveling several time zones.”

International zones or even New York to L.A.? “Yes. It’s worse when you’re traveling eastbound. It’s more difficult for our bodies to adapt to an advanced time, rather than a delayed time. When we’re traveling west, you gain some extra hours — versus when you travel east, you lose hours. So, that makes it difficult.”

What jet lag feels like: “It feels like fatigue. Tired, but you can’t sleep. You can’t concentrate. You’re having difficulty doing certain tasks. You’re irritable. Some people get [gastrointestinal], upset or a queasy feeling like they’re still on the aircraft — so, a lot of issues adapting to the sleep-wake cycle.”

Does it affect some people more than others? “Yes, it can be more severe in people with underlying disease or elderly patients or those that drink on the aircraft. The air pressure in the aircraft is much lower than sea level. The amount of oxygen that reaches your brain is less while traveling. That can cause fatigue and dehydration. Drinking on top of that makes it a lot worse. So, you want to keep hydrated, especially with water. Avoid caffeine as well.”

Other ways to prevent jet lag: “The main balance between light and dark. You can use artificial devices to mimic what it’s going to be like where your destination is. If it’s going to be dark, you might want to put on sunglasses or an eye patch so when you’re there you adapt more easily. And if you’re going to go somewhere where it’s bright and daytime and you need to be awake, you probably want to have lights on and maybe an electronic device with bright lights that you’re looking at so you can manipulate light and dark, so when you get to your destination you can adapt more easily.”

How to treat jet lag: “Stick with the time at the destination. Even if you’re accustomed to the time you left behind and you want to go to sleep and it’s day, you want to keep awake and adapt to the time that’s there. And then also, get a good night’s sleep. Make sure you sleep when it’s night at your destination. People who are fit, who take care of their underlying conditions, and who eat a well-balanced diet, their symptoms won’t be as severe as those who are in good shape.”

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