The following information must be viewed as a guide only. It is not intended, nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
Specific recommendations on vaccinations, anti-malarial medications and targeted travel health advice is always provided on an individual basis taking into account:
- the personal health of the traveller including past medical and vaccination history
- intended activities
- precise itinerary
- style of travel
- type of accommodation
- time of year
- length of stay.
We strongly recommend travellers seek an appointment with a doctor trained in travel health prior to departure.
What is it?
Jet lag is a subjective feeling experienced after a long flight through several time zones. It is caused by the traveller’s body clock, their “circadian rhythm” being out of phase with the ‘real’ time at their destination.
Our brains contain an internal system which helps regulate many biological and physiological processes such as hunger, sleep, temperature and other timing mechanisms, such as circadian rhythms.
This internal system can experience difficulty if it is forced to make rapid adjustments, such as skipping ahead 12 hours, as can occur with long distance travel.
When this timing is disrupted, we experience the symptoms of jet lag. These effects are generally worse when travelling from west to east.
The body clock is affected by four main factors: light, sleep, exercise and food. Each of these variables can be entered into a Jet Lag Advisor, found at www.ba.com/jetlag This handy tool was developed by leading sleep authority Dr Chris Idzikowski, a.k.a. Dr Sleep.
Symptoms of jet lag include:
- sleep difficulties
- impaired concentration
- impaired physical performance
- loss of appetite
Jet lag will usually disappear within about three days after arrival. There are, however, a number of ways to minimise the impact. These include:
- starting the journey in as relaxed a state as possible by ensuring a good sleep the night before flying and allowing plenty of time to get to the airport - more easily said than done with children, who are often excited by the prospect of travel. The aim, in this instance, should as much as possible be to keep to normal routines in the lead up to departure;
- planning a stopover, if possible, and try to arrange the itinerary so that you are flying into the night.
You should also try to avoid making important commitments for the first 24 hours after arrival. This applies especially to people who are required to make important decisions as judgment can be impacted by the time change. For better performance, allow some time to recover.
A list of additional preventative measures and general tips are outlined in the box below.
While many frequent travellers have their own way of dealing with jet lag, it may be worthwhile to speak with a travel health specialist prior to departure about any medicines which may be of assistance (eg. sleeping tablet, mild laxative, decongestant), and whether or not you are at risk for deep vein thrombosis. Benefits have been shown with stockings to aid circulation and prevention is always best for healthy travel.
Tips during the flight
- For trips longer than 3 days, move to your destination time as soon as possible. Change your watch time as soon as you are on board.
- Stay well hydrated - drink plenty of water or juice, limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Use light exercise to stay alert - take regular walks around the plane and exercise at airport stops.
- Eat light, healthy snacks - eat only when hungry and even miss a meal or two.
- Wear loose clothing, long skirts or comfortable trousers, light sweaters.
- Wear comfortable shoes -take them off in flight.
- Try to sleep on longer sections of the flight -use earplugs to block out noise during sleep.
- Use light and dark to effectively trigger normal sleep/wake cycles - rest without napping during daylight sectors.
- Keep feet up when resting and exercise by flexing major muscles of legs.
- Use moisturisers to reduce feeling of dehydration.
Special Considerations With Children
The points underlined above are techniques that could be used to assist in minimising the effects of jet lag in children. There are, however, several specific issues that parents should also consider:
- Feeding infants during flights – conventional wisdom has recommended that infants be given bottles or nursed during take off & landing, frequently during the flight & when they become fussy or cry. This is because it has always been thought that infants are experiencing ear pain &/or are dehydrated.
New evidence however suggests that frequent feedings may be counter productive. Adults often mistakenly interpret dry or parched mucus membranes in their mouth or throat as dehydration, whereas it is really the result of the aircraft’s air-conditioning removing humidity from the air.
At the cruising altitude of aircraft, air in the stomach & intestine is already expanded by around 20% as a result of low atmospheric pressure. Frequent sucking on a bottle or breast can add more air – increasing discomfort, and may result in more crying & restlessness. The message of this story is that parents should not feed infants any more during a flight than they do at home - and that they should be fed briefly (not excessively) during ascent & descent.
- Medications – parents often ask about medications, such as antihistamines, to help sedate young children and infants during long flights in an effort to make them more manageable. There is little rationale for sedating them - even for long flights - and anecdotal evidence from parents who have given their children antihistamines for long flights indicates that it was not helpful, or conversely, made their child more difficult to manage. Indeed, it is known that antihistamines can make some children more active, especially those who are prone to be active.
Remember to the check the DFAT ‘Smartraveller’ website (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au) prior to departure.
To access Dr Sleep's Jet Lag Advisor, go to www.ba.com/jetlag
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