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Travel Without Sacrificing Sleep

Send Jet Lag Packing
By DuPage Medical Group Sleep Medicine

Even though jet lag is a common, temporary sleep disorder, it may not feel brief enough for the travelers it affects. In the past jet lag was thought of as a psychological phenomenon, which was all in our heads. Over time, studies have shown that jet lag is a very real sleep condition. Jet lag occurs when traveling across multiple time zones in a short period of time. Crossing time zones disrupts the body’s internal clock that is responsible for regulating sleep patterns; as a result the body becomes out of sync with the actual, external time. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to experience jet lag, and the more intense the symptoms may be.  Additionally, older adults may be more susceptible to jet lag and typically take longer to overcome its side effects.

Side effects of jet lag may include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling sleepy and sluggish during the day
  • Trouble focusing or functioning normally
  • Stomach upset

In general, it takes about 1 day per time zone for your body to adjust. If you are traveling in and out of town for a quick business trip or traveling internationally for a week’s vacation, this can put a real damper on your trip. For example, if you are traveling from O’Hare to Europe for a 10-day trip, it could be several days before your body adjusts - no one wants to spend their first several days of vacation tired and groggy. Fortunately there are several things you can do to lessen the effects of jet lag.

  1. Try adjusting your sleep pattern in advance. Adjusting your schedule by as little as 15 to 30 minutes per day until you travel can make a huge difference. If you are traveling east, you will need to advance your body clock by going to bed earlier than normal. Travelers headed west will need to delay their body clock by going to bed later.
  2. Altering meal times or eating lighter, smaller meals when traveling can help prevent travel-induced indigestion and stomach upset.
  3. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake while traveling. Both have a negative impact on your sleep.
  4. Control your environmental factors like light and sound when possible. This step is critical in minimizing jet lag, as light is the primary signal for your body to wake up. Wearing sunglasses, dimming lights and shutting hotel curtains are all ways to minimize light exposure while you are adjusting to the new time zone.
  5. Rest on the plane as much as possible. Try utilizing an eye wrap, travel pillow or headphones to make resting easier.

If you find you are still having difficulty managing your sleep while traveling, your doctor may prescribe a medication to help you sleep. Always check with your physician before taking any type of over-the- counter or prescription sleep aid to ensure it is safe and appropriate for you.

Topics and Subtopics: Sleep

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