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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Do you know - Jet lag ?

After spending five days in London, I came to USA on 19th night and until yesterday my sleeping time was erratic. Even though I know about Jet lag and experienced it many times, I really wanted to know something more about it. Here is an explanation I read in the internet and that appears to be right to some extent, and may clear many of our doubts.

What is JET LAG?

On my current trip to USA, I have been experiencing two things like never before - some strange discomfort and often encountering the phrase JET LAG. The rest of the story is based on my (res)earch to know how these two things are connected.
Jet lag also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis is considered a sleep disorder that can affect everybody who travels across multiple time zones in airplanes. It happens due to de-synchronization between the body's internal time clock and local environmental cues. Our internal clock - also called circadian rhythm - which tells our body when it's time to be awake and when it's time to be asleep, is disrupted by jet lag. The more time zones crossed, the more likely we are to experience jet lag.Oxygen levels in an airplane cabin could also play a role in jet lag. As air pressure is relatively low in the airplane cabin, the amount of oxygen in the blood is reduced. A decrease in the quantity of oxygen can have an effect on physical and mental abilities, making us more sluggish, exhausted, and lacking in energy.

The symptoms of jet lag can be quite varied, depending on the amount of time zone alteration. It could be - headaches, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, insomnia, grogginess, irritability, mild depression, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, ear aches and swollen feet.

Few simple yet interesting learning’s for me are:

 - The symptoms of jet lag are usually more obvious when someone travels east, rather than west. This is because the body finds it easier to adapt to a somewhat longer day (in the west) than a slightly shorter one (in the east).  Hence the condition is NOT associated to the distance of the flight, but to the trans-meridian (East-West) distance travelled. For example, a 10 hour flight from Europe to southern Africa does not cause jet lag, as travel is primarily north-south. A 5 hour flight from west to eastern coast of the United States may well result in jet lag.

- Sunlight is a key factor on the internal clock. This is because the pineal gland, a part of the brain that influences circadian rhythms, reacts to varying levels of environmental light. Retina of the eye transmits the light-levels to brain which is then sent to pineal gland. At night, the pineal gland releases the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin which stops during the day. This means, one way to adjust to new time zone is by exposing oneself to daylight.

Now who can get Jet-lagged? Anybody, regardless of frequency of travel and any age can build up this condition. However, it is more common in individuals over 50 years and is relatively rare in children.

Any way we can prevent this annoying lag? Yes we can to some extent, through few precautions.
1) General belief is that a drink will relax and make trip easy. Unfortunately, alcohol and jet lag do not mix.
2) Drink plenty of fluids, try staying hydrated before and after your flight. And yes, the best fluid is water.
3) Get some sleep. If it is night time at your destination while you are on your flight, try and get some sleep.
4) Keep active. Walk around the cabin occasionally, and regularly stretch your arms and legs when you sit. 
Another easy way is to adjust your watch so that it matches the time of your destination. This will help adjust more quickly to your new time zone.

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