Employee & Community Health

Jetting off on a vacation? Avoid the lag

7/22/2019 by Dr. Denise Dupras

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Whether you're a frequent or infrequent flier, traveling across more than two time zones can put you at risk for jet lag. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to experience symptoms. 

Jet lag results when your body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) is out of sync with the time zone you're in at your destination. The major influence on your internal clock is sunlight, which affects the production of melatonin by the pineal gland in your brain that synchronizes your internal clock. That's why going east may be more difficult than going west because it's later in the day when you arrive. 

Common symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty falling asleep or waking up to early
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling unwell
  • Diarrhea or upset stomach

Jet lag can't be prevented, but there are things you can do before, during and after travel to minimize your symptoms. 

Before the trip: Get plenty of rest. If you can, gradually adjust your schedule to the destination time zone. Consider moving your wake, meal and sleep times by an hour each day for a few days so that you're closer to the schedule you'll be on when you arrive. 

During the trip: Avoid alcohol, drink plenty of water, get sleep (if you can) on a night flight and set your watch to the destination time. Don't forget to move your legs on long trips to decrease the risk of blood clots. 

When you arrive: If it's morning where you are, don't go to bed. Nap, if you must, for a short period of time, but plan to go to bed at local time. If you normally go to bed at 10, that's when you'll hit the hay at your destination. Exposure to sunlight will help you wake up your brain and reset your inner clock. 

About your medications: Talk to your doctor about adjusting the timing of your insulin or other medications you take at a regular time. 

Safe travels!

Dr. Denise Dupras is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). She completed her MD-PhD at Mayo Medical School and her residency in Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her interests include medical education and evidence-based medicine.