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How to Combat Jet Lag While Travelling Across Time Zones

A comprehensive guide on what to do before you fly, while in the air, and after you land. 

Trying to squeeze in a mini world tour in the handful of leaves you’ve been granted off work? If you’re planning to travel through multiple time zones, you must be warned: you’re likely to get hit by truckloads of jet lag—a pressing concern, if you’re homebound, since taking a couple more days off to recover from the grogginess, disorientation, and fatigue, is out of the question.

So, does this mean that you should call off your voyage around the world? Course not. Listen up, frequent flyers—and you, too, the occasional globetrotter—we’ve gone the extra ‘mile’ to get you all the deets on how to curb symptoms of jet lag when heading back from your sojourn.


First and foremost, what is jet lag?


Jet lag, also known as desynchronosis, is a temporary circadian rhythm disorder that affects those who quickly travel across multiple time zones. “It is more commonly experienced by those who fly eastward, with the severity of the symptoms varying based on the number of time zones crossed,” explains Dr Sachin D, Consultant, Interventional Pulmonology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Manipal Hospital. The most common symptoms of jet lag include poor quality of sleep, lack of concentration, tiredness and exhaustion, and even indigestion.


What to do before the flight?


“It’s important to be fully rested the night before travelling a long distance. If the trip exceeds 3-5 days, consider altering your sleep schedule in your home country a few days prior. Try to mimic your sleep and waking up time as per the time zone you’re travelling into. And, as soon as you sit on the flight, change your clock to the time at the arrival destination,” recommends Dr M.S Kanwar, Senior Consultant, Department of Pulmonology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.


What to do mid-air?


“If you’re arriving at your destination in the evening or late into the night, hold off sleeping on the flight as far as possible. Depending on the duration of your flight and the different time zones, you could take a short nap before flying. The idea is that once you reach your destination, you should be tired enough to doze off,” informs Dr Prashant Chhajed, Director, Pulmonology and Sleep Centre, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital. 

“Alternatively, if you’re arriving at the destination in the morning or early afternoon, catch up on sleep during the flight to be refreshed once you touch down. Once you arrive, you should rest and wake up as per regular hours,” he adds.


What to do after you land?


“After you land, attempt to conform to the dark hours at the destination. Fight off sleep during the day, and if necessary, judiciously consume melatonin gummies or pills to regulate your sleep cycle,” suggests Dr Kanwar.

Dr Sachin adds, “Timed light exposure therapy can commence three days prior to travelling. Additionally, timed meals and light exercise a couple of hours before bedtime can help combat sleep disturbance and adapt to the new timings. Judicious use of caffeine and sleep promoters may also be used as adjuncts to therapy. Newer therapies including drugs such as benzodiazepine receptor agonists (Zolpidem, Zopiclone) will aid in a sound sleep, while drugs such as Armodafinil are wakefulness promoters, that can be used in select cases.”

If one is more prone to experiencing the symptoms of jet lag, consult a sleep specialist prior to the date of travel to help minimise the after-effects of travelling across time zones. 


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