You are on holiday in an exotic location but instead of feeling relaxed, happy and glad to be alive, you are irritable, tired and struggling to stay awake. If you had a long flight around the world crossing from west to east or vice versa, you are in all likelihood suffering from jetlag.
Jetlag is a negative effect caused by the disruption of your body’s natural circadian rhythms. (Circa meaning around and diem meaning day) These rhythms are natural patterns in your body driven by external factors such as light and dark. The primary external stimulus is light. When the external stimuli are disrupted, the circadian rhythm perseveres, unable to change as rapidly as its external driver. When you cross time zones in an airplane your body becomes confused, expecting light when it is dark and expecting darkness in the daytime. Your body’s circadian rhythms slowly alter to the new outside stimuli. That is why jet lag decreases after a few days.
Jetlag affects some people more severely than others. There is no known cure for it but there are a few techniques for reducing the time span that it takes you to recover.
When you start traveling or even before, set the time on your watch to the time of your destination. Try to live as though your time at your destination is your current time. For example if it is 1pm in the afternoon when you board your airplane but your destination time is 9pm, try to eat something and fall asleep as soon as you can, for as long as possible.
When you arrive at your destination, if it is night time, try to sleep as soon as possible. If it is daytime, stay awake as long as possible. If you really have to sleep, set an alarm for about 2 hours time and get up when it rings, no matter how awful you may feel. Exposing your body to natural daylight will help your body’s rhythms to adjust. Exercise is also believed to help adjust these rhythms.
There are a few pharmaceutical remedies for helping one get over jetlag. Most of these contain melatonin. Melatonin is a natural substance secreted by the body’s pineal gland, which is a small endocrine gland situated near the centre of the brain between the two brain hemispheres. Melatonin is known as a phase marker: the levels of melatonin in your body clearly indicate which phase of your body’s natural rhythm you are in. Melatonin levels are low in your body during the day, increasing as the evening draws in. Thus melatonin can be taken in the evening, making your body more prone to sleeping and reducing the insomnia which is a symptom of jetlag.
As with all medication, it is recommended that you consult a medical practitioner before taking melatonin. It is also a good idea to test it for any side affects before your holiday.
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