Poor health and insomnia after a flight is often perceived as a natural condition, the result of fatigue. However, jetlag (sleep disturbance during the adaptation of the body when changing several time zones) is now included in the International Classification of Diseases. How such a condition manifests itself, why it develops and why it is dangerous, Healthyinfo understood.
Causes of poor adaptation during jet lag
The life of the organism is rigidly subordinated to circadian rhythms — the daily change of day and night. The processes that occur in the dark and light time differ significantly. First of all, various hormones are produced — in the dark, melatonin is synthesized, which is responsible for sleep, and in sunlight, the production of serotonin increases, which helps a person stay alert and stress-resistant. For the normal functioning of the body, periods of darkness and light must alternate and last for a certain time.
When changing two or more time zones, the usual circadian rhythms of a person do not correspond to the change of day and night in a new place. This is what leads to the fact that the body needs a serious adaptation, and until it is rebuilt, jet lag occurs — a sleep disorder.
Normally, addiction lasts no more than a few days. However, people who fly frequently can suffer from chronic jet lag — in which a person’s adaptation to new conditions does not fully occur. Serious violations also occur in those who have changed 6 or more time zones.
Doctors note that jet lag is a problem that occurs not only during flights. So, the desynchronization of biorhythms and the real change of day and night occurs in the following situations:
Night shift work.
Changeover to summer/winter time.
Changing the daily routine on the weekend (weekend jet lag).
At the same time, slight fluctuations, in 1–2 hours, only in some groups of people lead to desynchronization and the manifestation of characteristic symptoms.
Sleep disturbances and other symptoms
The main symptom of jet lag is a disruption in sleep and wakefulness. So, a person may feel tired, overwhelmed, but he cannot fall asleep — as soon as he is in bed, uncharacteristic cheerfulness arises. During the adaptation period, sleep will be inadequate, patients complain of the following symptoms:
Prolonged drowsiness without falling asleep, sometimes lasting until dawn.
Increased motor activity during sleep.
Emotional, nervous state in the evening.
Superficial sleep, which is interrupted by any stimulus — sound, light source, and more.
Frequent awakenings, several times a night, after which it is difficult to fall asleep.
Feeling of weakness in the morning, inadequate sleep.
Adjusting to a new time zone is often accompanied by other symptoms. Among them:
Violation of orientation in space.
Digestive disorders — diarrhea, constipation, nausea.
In chronic jet lag, which occurs in people who are forced to fly frequently, the symptoms increase, severe disorders begin to appear. First of all, hormones suffer — a lack of melatonin affects the entire endocrine system. Various problems with the thyroid gland are often manifested, and women have menstrual irregularities. Chronic lack of sleep and irritability lead to depression, and patients also complain of headaches, muscle weakness, and high blood pressure.
Risk Factors for Poor Adjustment
The main risk factor for severe adaptation is a sudden change of 6 or more time zones or simply frequent flights. People with such a schedule are often diagnosed with chronic jet lag, which does not go away for 3 or more months.
How fast a person will adapt to a new regime of changing day and night depends on other factors. So, for example, in healthy young people (20–30 years old), symptoms after one flight may not appear at all. But for the elderly and children, changing time zones is difficult.
Other factors that exacerbate jet lag include:
Endocrine diseases — hormonal disorders will affect the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Season. In summer, jet lag is the easiest.
Season difference. Changing climatic conditions exacerbate the overall adaptation.
Flight direction. For most people, moving from west to east is less well tolerated.
Drinking alcohol, coffee, overeating during the flight.
How to make it easier for a person to adapt to jetlag
It is impossible to completely get rid of jet lag, especially when it comes to frequent or long flights. However, it is quite realistic to make sure that the adaptation of a person takes place as quickly as possible. To do this, you should follow these rules:
A few days before the flight, start shifting the regime in the direction of the one that will be in the new place — earlier or, conversely, go to bed later. If the schedule can be adjusted for at least three hours, the adaptation will be much faster.
Refuse coffee, alcohol and energy drinks at least a day before the trip. Completely exclude them during the flight.
You should not constantly sit on an airplane, it is important to get up at least a few times and walk around the cabin, stretch your muscles.
If you have to change more than 10 time zones, it is best to break the flight into several parts, ideally spend one day at an intermediate point.
Upon arrival at a new place, you need to try to immediately turn on the new mode. If it is morning, you should not go to bed, and if it is evening, on the contrary, lie down and rest in the dark for at least a few hours.
On the first night, it is important to provide comfortable conditions for sleep — turn off gadgets, close the curtains tightly, ask that no one disturb you.
The first day should be spent in a gentle mode, do not plan long trips, it is better to abandon the beach, in extreme cases, go to the sea or ocean for a few hours in the morning or evening.
The hormone melatonin and other drugs
In some cases, doctors recommend medical treatment for jet lag. And of course, hormones play a key role here. So, taking melatonin helps to quickly get rid of insomnia. Such support is perfect for those who make frequent flights, such as pilots and flight attendants. However, it must be remembered that melatonin can only solve the problem for a few days, in fact, it does not improve adaptation, but simply relieves sleep disturbance. Therefore, this way of dealing with jet lag is ideal if a person changes the time zone for 2–3 days, and then returns to his usual environment.
Doctors say that jet lag can exacerbate chronic diseases, so you should definitely take all the necessary medicines on a trip. Stress significantly exacerbates various sleep disorders, so people who are prone to excitement in a new place and in a new environment, it is better to take calming drugs with them. But doctors recommend to refuse the use of sleeping pills.