Beating the drag of jet lag

Healthcare travel specialist Rachael Floyd, Willis Towers Watson's Operations Director and registered nurse, advises on how to synchronise your body clock and cope with jet lag.

What is it?

Your body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) operates, approximately, on a 24 hour cycle. Together with external factors, such as light and dark, this regulates eating, sleeping and other body functions.

The body’s clock is unable to synchronise quickly to rapid travel across time zones, such as those experienced on a long-haul flight. Estimates suggest that it can take as much as one day per time zone travelled to readjust.

The symptoms of jet lag include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of concentration
  • Gastro-intestinal disturbances

All of these are inconvenient to any airline passenger, but to a business traveller who needs to work shortly after arrival, jet lag can be a major problem.

Why might I get it?

  • Crossing more than three time zones
  • Travelling east – it is not as severe when travelling west
  • Aged over 50
  • Regular flyer or infrequent traveller – either can be affected

Travel health top tips

In the interest of travel medical science I’ve tried several different methods of overcoming jet lag but found that, as with many things, simple and practical steps are effective:

  • Set your watch to the time in your destination country whilst flying. This will get you used to local time faster. Make a point not to think about what time it is at home – unless you need to make contact with the office.
  • When you arrive in your destination country, make sure you stay awake until it is bedtime at the local time. Steer clear of napping during the day – this will only extend the time it takes you to adjust to a normal sleep pattern.
  • Try to get out and about at your destination in normal daylight. Your body clock responds to light and dark – exposure to natural light will help your body to readjust to day/night; wake/sleep. Gentle exercise, such as walking, will also help to relax you.
  • Eat regular meals, at the appropriate time. Your body normally doesn’t expect to be fed during the night. Raising your blood sugar in the small hours will give you energy just when you really don’t need it.
  • Although alcohol may make you drowsy initially, it leads to disturbed sleep.  Alcohol acts as a diuretic meaning you need the toilet more frequently and it leads to dehydration, causing headaches. In addition, it can affect the quality and depth of sleep.
  • Where possible try to book flights with departure and arrival times that will enable you to catch up on sleep during the flight, i.e. evening departures and morning arrivals.

If your company has healthcare or medical insurance needs, call Willis Towers Watson on 01606 353260, request a callback or complete our contact form and find out how we can help you.