Did you know that the widely known phenomenon called jet lag is actually classified as a sleep disorder, among other more severe conditions, in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD)?
We are all quite aware of what jet lag is. Many of us suffer from it often to such an extent as to come up with individual methods to avoid it or get rid of it as early as possible. If you have not figured out your own way of dealing with it, no worries: there is an abundance of advice about jet lag management people give each other on the Internet. In this post, however, we will take a closer look at a more medical approach to it.
The definition of jet lag is quite intuitive: the maladjustment of the endogenous circadian rhythm to outer environmental conditions, due to the previous crossing at least two time zones. The inability to synchronize our inner sleep rhythm to the day and night cycle of the area we are traveling to causes symptoms typical of jet lag: difficulty falling asleep in the evening and somnolence during the day.
What Exacerbates Jet Lag?
First, the more time zones we cross the more severe the symptoms tend to be. Second, traveling east is much worse than traveling west, as far as symptoms’ aggravation and duration are concerned. Our endogenous circadian rhythm is a little longer than 24 hours, so it is easier for us to travel west (when we have to add a few hours to our day) than east (when we are deprived of a few hours). Imagine going out in the evening (adding a few hours to your activity phase) with falling asleep in the late afternoon, and being able to sleep throughout the night (with the number of activity hours diminished). What would be easier and more natural for you to do?
Among symptoms that are described in medical books under the headline “jet lag” include difficulty falling asleep, somnolence during the day, deteriorated functioning of the whole body, confusion, malaise, as well as digestive system and mood disorders.
Some may think that the elderly, for example, experience a less severe type of jet lag because their endogenous rhythm is shuffled to the more “early bird” type. In fact, epidemiological statistics clearly indicate that there is no such correlation. Jet lag can occur at any age, and, on the contrary, symptoms are often aggravated in elderly people.
When Should I Start Worrying about Jet Lag?
If somnolence during the day and insomnia at night remain or aggravate after the journey, you have to start looking for other reasons of it. Sometimes these can be first symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Depression should be also taken into consideration in diagnostic process. Malaise and digestive system dysfunction can be associated with other somatic diseases and should be diagnosed separately.
How Can We Treat Let Lag?
Treatment of jet lag should be focused mainly on the resynchronization of the endogenous circadian rhythm with the environment of a different time zone. Deprivation of sleep should be tackled as soon as possible. Prophylaxes include: suitable fluid and balanced electrolyte intake, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol throughout the flight and right after reaching the destination, physical activity, and proper sleep hygiene during the night.
If the timing is proper, another highly effective method is phototherapy. For example when we travel east and reach our destination in the morning, we should avoid bright light exposure as our endogenous clock is set to the “evening” mode, and excessive exposition can result in a delaying sleep phase. At the same time, you should expose yourself to light in the late afternoon hours.
Fight jet lag with Neuro:On!
The NeuroOn uses light therapy to help people adjust their circadian rhythm to the time zone they are entering. You can plan your own light therapy using our Jet Lag Optimizer accessible at https://neuroon.com/jetlag/. All you need to do is indicate the origin and destination of your trip, and the algorithm will prepare an estimated schedule. In order to attenuate the effects of jet lag on the body, however, an analysis of melatonin hormone production is necessary. This feature is a part of a native NeuroOn application.