How it Effects Sleeping Patterns
It’s summer time! Kids home from school, warm weather, a great time to take a trip. With this in mind, I think now is a good time to cover the topic of jet lag.
I will touch upon three areas regarding jet lag:
- What is jet let and why does it happen
- Medications and supplements you should know about for jet lag
What is jet lag and why does it happen?
Our biological rhythms run on an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm which follows about a 24 hour cycle (circa meaning about, dian meaning day). This “clock” regulates many of our body processes and hormones and usually is set by the external environment, particularly sunlight. Sunlight is the most powerful rhythm setter. An important internal factor that helps set the body’s clock is melatonin.
When we travel rapidly (by jet) across multiple time zones our cycles are no longer in synch with the environment around us and can cause symptoms such as sleep disturbances, stomach upset, daytime tiredness, and poor performance. This syndrome is known as jet lag. Interestingly, travel westward (i.e. New York to Los Angeles) is often easier to adapt to then eastward (LA to NY), because it is easier to lengthen the circadian cycle than to shorten it. The more time zones crossed, the more difficult it is to adapt.
What can I do to prevent it from occurring?
As we mentioned, natural sunlight is the most potent rhythm setter. After a westward flight, try to stay awake during daylight hours and only go to sleep at night (in the new time zone). When traveling eastward, avoid bright light in the morning, but outdoors as much as possible in the afternoon. Other external cues reinforce this: having meals at your usual mealtime (i.e. if you normally eat dinner at 7 PM, eat at 7 PM in the new time zone), get exercise, and sightseeing that allows sun exposure at the times noted above.
What about medications and supplements?
As noted above, one of the internal rhythm setters is melatonin, which is available as a dietary supplement in many health food stores. There are some studies that show that when melatonin is taken in the evening in an eastward traveler, it can advance the internal clock and improve sleep. Typical dosages are 3 mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before bedtime on the day of travel and for up to four days after arrival. However, no firm recommendations can be made regarding its use, as there is only limited research on its effectiveness and safety, and it is not FDA approved for any indication.
Hypnotics such as Halcion, Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata might help you fall asleep, but they will not affect the internal rhythms. Many people feel the benefits are outweighed by some of the medication side effects. They also might cause grogginess the following morning, which may worsen the symptoms of jet lag.
Hope every enjoys their summer vacations and bon voyage!