Dr. Eugene Delaune, MD, senior medical consultant with Allianz Travel Insurance, has you covered when it comes to jet lag.
First off, Dr. Delaune reminds us that without any change in routine, the human body will adjust to approximately one hour of change in time per day. This means that without making some effort, it can take travelers over a week to fully adjust to a new time zone when flying across an ocean. But you can speed up the process and ward off that jet lag by changing your behaviors.
So, with that in mind, Dr. Delaune, who advises Allianz Partners’ Assistance Team on critical medical decisions, including managing emergency medical evacuations, providing medical triage with referrals to local medical providers and overseeing ongoing medical monitoring for ill or injured customers of the travel insurance and assistance company, says when flying east from the U.S. to Europe:
- Start adjusting your sleep schedule several days prior to travel to more closely align with the sleep schedule you will have at your destination. Try to get up earlier and go to bed earlier each day for the week prior to travel.
- On the day of travel, assuming you’re on an overnighting flight, sleep as much as possible during the flight.
- Once you arrive, avoid the temptation to nap. It helps to take a shower, change clothes, and spend time in the light outside to convince the body that it is starting a new day.
- Even if you’re tired the first night, a sleep aid such as Benadryl, melatonin or a benzodiazepine prescribed by a physician might be helpful to avoid waking up in the middle of the night.
- If you do wake up during the night, you should stay in bed and remain inactive—try reading a book or meditating until you are able to fall back asleep or the sun rises.
Avoid Jet Leg When Heading Back Home
When you’re heading back home—flying west from Europe to the U.S.— Dr. Delaune, who is trained by the U.S. Air Force, and has served as a flight surgeon and as a Critical Care Air Transport Team member, advises against sleeping during the flight home. He also says to start a gradual shift in your sleep schedule in the days prior to travel, this time staying in bed later in the morning and staying up later at night. And, he notes, taking a sleep aid before falling asleep the first night will help you get a full night of sleep and adjust to the new time zone more quickly.
Other tips to keep in mind? Avoid alcohol because it can cause dehydration and induces non-restful sleep. He also says that a dark environment during periods of sleep and a bright environment when awake will help reset the body’s internal/chemical clock.
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