Q: I want to travel to an event, but am worried about jet lag. What is it, and how do I prevent it?
A: Jet lag occurs when you cross time zones so that your body clock is no longer synchronized with the local time. Common symptoms of jet lag are disturbed sleep, poor concentration, fatigue, feeling unwell, muscle soreness, upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation, and altered menstrual cycle.
Several strategies may hasten your adjustment:
- Start resetting your body clock before you go. Start moving your sleep schedule one hour per week in the direction of your destination's time zone. So, if you are traveling east across four or more time zones, start going to bed one hour earlier four weeks prior to your trip. If you are traveling across more than seven time zones, try to break up the trip and remain in one time zone for several days if possible.
- When you arrive at your destination, immediately get on the local schedule. So if you arrive in the morning, try to stay up all day, go to bed at a regular time, and eat meals at normal local times.
- Light exercise can ease the transition.
- Stay hydrated and eat familiar, easy-to-digest foods for the first few days until you have adapted to your new location.
Will melatonin help with jet lag?
There is some evidence that low-dose melatonin can help with jet lag. If you have any medical condition, check with your doctor before taking melatonin. Suggested dosing is between 0.5 mg and 5 mg taken on the first day of travel at the time you would expect to go to sleep at your destination. Continue this dose 20 minutes before bed for a few days after you arrive at your destination. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL while using melatonin. Side effects are uncommon but include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, and disorientation.
What can I do to prevent that bloated feeling when I fly?
- Stay hydrated before and during flying. You may need to drink water at the airport as you will not be served enough fluid to stay hydrated. Aim for 6 to 8 oz. of fluid for each hour in the air.
- Avoid salty foods before and during the flight. Instead, bring your own snacks such as fruit, vegetables, or unsalted nuts.
- Move around if possible. Get up and walk every few hours and shift your position at least every 30 minutes. Walking and shifting your position decreases bloating and lowers your risk for developing blood clots in your legs.
- Avoid gum, hard candies, carbonated beverages, and anything that cause gas.
- Take over-the-counter gas medicine like simethicone or herbs such as fennel.
Here are some ways to make your event safer and more enjoyable:
- Take extra prescription medicine in the original container and a copy of all your prescriptions. Know that medicines often have different names in other countries.
- Get all required immunizations (international) several months before travel.
- Take extra food with you. You want to have familiar foods to eat if you can't find them locally.
- Try the local cuisine carefully. Avoid totally new foods before your event; you don't want digestive upset to keep you from the starting line.
- Consider taking Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast that does not stay in your intestines for long but seems to help keep the "bad bugs" from taking up residence. Take one capsule daily to prevent diarrhea and two daily for five days if diarrhea develops. If you have any intestinal or immune problem or yeast allergy, check with your doctor before taking.
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Meredith Hudson, RN, ND, is a naturopathic physician with a focus on wellness and performance. She brings many years of experience as a registered nurse to her clinical practice. Hudson can be contacted at www.clearh2o.org.