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Your Sleep Questions Answered: Jet Lag

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Jet lag is a sleep disorder experienced by travelers. Because it's generally a temporary problem that many don't consider to be a true disorder, there is little concrete data on the number of people that suffer from jet lag. We scoured the Web to find answers to some frequently asked questions about jet lag, giving you background information so that you or your loved one can literally sleep better at night.

Note: You should not rely on the information in this post as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Andrea Hermitt

Jet Lag

Jet lag, also called desynchronosis, "is a physiological condition which is a consequence of alterations to the circadian rhythm". A circadian rhythm is roughly a 24-hour cycle of sleep and waking patterns. The hypothalamus, which acts as an alarm clock for hunger, thirst and sleep, may trigger activities for which the body is not ready, causing sleeplessness and other physical issues.

Symptoms

The symptoms of jet lag include exhaustion and disorientation. Someone who is experiencing jet lag may become confused and irritable. He or she will have difficulty returning to normal sleep patterns and may also experience dehydration and swollen limbs.

Causes

Jet lag is the result of travel, especially when taking long flights to areas in different time zones. For example, a New Yorker may arrive in London at 8 a.m., but his body will still think it's midnight. The body will struggle to adapt, and the individual will experience symptoms of insomnia as well as possible stomach issues.

Standard Treatments

The most common treatment for jet lag is melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. It can help reset the circadian clock, making the patient sleepy at his or her new bedtime based on the current time zone instead of the old one. In addition, the sufferer might want to expose himself to sunlight in the morning and drink coffee, activities that will help him stay awake during the new daytime hours.

Severity

Jet lag is not life threatening. Frequent flyers, however, may experience long-term health problems. There have been studies that suggest that people who suffer from chronic jet leg may be more likely to develop cancer.

Quality Of Life

Jet lag can affect one's quality of life by reducing productivity, increasing fatigue and generally preventing a seamless return to normalcy after returning from a trip.

Precautions

If planning a long distance trip, it is wise to set watches to the new time zone in advance and to begin to alter sleeping and eating patterns to more resemble the hours of the future location. Another option is to try to eat as close to one's natural meal times as possible when traveling.

Have you ever experience jet lag? What tricks worked for you?

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