Long haul flights are an inevitable part of the expatriate experience in Singapore, whether for business or leisure. Here are some basic tips on how to fight it.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag refers to the collection of symptoms which arise after travelling across several time zones, by air. It can affect people of all ages and is the result of the internal body clock not being able to immediately adjust to a new time zone.
Jet lag is typically worse when travelling from west to east because the body needs to advance its time clock and sleep when not tired.
Generally, if you are travelling across three time zones or less, jet lag is not usually a problem.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
The most common symptoms of jet lag are related to a disrupted sleep schedule. Both physically and mentally, you may not be able to function as normal. In particular, this may result in:
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed.
- Poor concentration or memory.
- Less coordination than usual.
- Feeling jittery and anxious.
- Being more irritable than usual.
- Poorer performance in sports than usual (particularly a problem for athletes).
Appetite can also be affected by jet lag as you may not be hungry at the normal meal times in the new time zone. This can therefore impact on your bowel habits and cause constipation, diarrhoea, nausea or indigestion.
How to manage jet lag
Jet lag usually settles on its own after a few days, as your body clock adjusts to the new time zone. The following are some useful tips on how to manage jet lag:
- After arriving at your destination, try to adapt to your new time zone as quickly as possible. Avoid sleeping until it is a reasonable time for bed, and over sleeping in the morning.
- In the daytime at your destination, expose yourself to outside natural light as much as possible.
- Eye shades or ear plugs may help if you are trying to get some rest.
Though it is difficult to prevent jet lag, gradually adapting your sleep cycle a few days prior to departure can help. This includes getting up and going to sleep earlier (if travelling east) or later (if travelling west) to minimise the time difference when you arrive.
Medications for jet lag
Treatment options include Melatonin, which is a form of the natural hormone produced by the body when it is dark. Melatonin can cause a person to feel sleepy and therefore help reduce some feelings of jet lag.
Sleeping tablets are generally best avoided – however for long distance trips these tablets can be a short-term option. Dependence and addiction can build up quickly so it is recommended for only 1-2 nights use only.
In the vast majority of cases, jet lag symptoms pass after a few days without the need for treatment and do not cause any long-term problems.
Dr Nandini Shah
MBBS (London), MRCGP(UK)