Dealing with Jet Lag
Traveling can be fun, but sometimes it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleeping and waking clock. This is what we call jet leg.
When traveling through different time zones, your body becomes exposed to light and darkness at different times than normal. These exposures set in motion several chemical changes in your body, including changes in Cortisol levels when you wake up and Melatonin levels when you fall asleep. Moving across time zones can either delay or advance the production of these chemicals, resulting in jet lag.
What is normal?
Steve Johnson, manager of the Middlesex Hospital Sleep Center, says it should normally take one day per time zone that you travel before your body resets its “clock.” This means if you head to California from Connecticut, it will take about three days because there is a three-hour time difference.
While jet lag is usually a temporary and fleeting disorder, Johnson says that it is easier for your body to adjust when you are traveling west than when you are headed east. Age is also a factor, he says. The older you are, the harder it is to fall back into your body’s circadian rhythm.
When does jet lag become a problem?
While it is rare, you can develop insomnia from jet leg. If you think you consistently have an issue falling asleep at your “normal” time, or you don’t wake up feeling refreshed, you may have a problem.
Johnson says insomnia can cause far more damage to the body and mind than people realize, and he says sleeping issues in general should not be ignored because sleep is a vital body function that we spend one third of our life doing. If the body and mind are not fully recuperating from a good night’s sleep, Johnson says functionality and medical issues could develop. Existing issues can worsen.
The treatment You can combat normal jet lag with light therapy and melatonin. Both can shorten the duration of jet lag. Light therapy is often used to alleviate symptoms of seasonal mood disorder. However, exposing yourself to a bright light can also help to shift your clock, making it easier for you to wake up.
You can purchase a light therapy box on the Internet. Make sure to consider the box’s lux, the unit of measurement for the output of light, before you buy it. You want a box with between 7,000 to 10,000 lux.
Melatonin can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy, but you must use it correctly for it to be effective. Carefully read the bottle’s label, and follow the directions. Melatonin should be used one hour prior to your desired sleep time at the same time for at least a week.
If insomnia develops, make an appointment with a sleep physician who uses cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia in their practice.
The Middlesex Hospital Sleep Center, located in Middletown, does use this therapy to treat insomnia and can be reached at 860-358-4615.
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