Jetlag: how the body adapts after a flight and what to do about it

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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

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:

    Weakness.
    Irritability.
    Violation of orientation in space.
    Forgetfulness.
    Poor concentration.
    Bad appetite.
    Digestive disorders — diarrhea, constipation, nausea.
    Dizziness.

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

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:

    General health.
    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

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.

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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.

By Yraa

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