Sleep Disorders : Disorders in the Timing of Sleep (part 2) - Reducing the Effects of Jet Lag & Strategies for dealing with shift-work

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Reducing the Effects of Jet Lag

When you travel by air across several time zones (see Traveling through time zones), your sleep-wake cycle and the levels of melatonin in your body are initially out of kilter with the local day-night cycle at your destination. This can lead to the various symptoms of jet lag (see What is jet lag?). To reduce the effects of jet lag, try to follow the advice here, which will help you synchronize your body clock to local conditions. Avoiding natural bright light at the wrong time is probably the most important factor in reducing jet lag.

Traveling through time zones

The world is divided into 24 zones of local time, which correspond to every 15 degrees of longitude and the 24 hours of a day. However, as a result of political and regional issues the time-zone map of the world does not consist of equally spaced lines (see here).

Whether you fly from east to west or from west to east, the more time zones you cross the more jet lag you are liable to experience. Many people report that their jet lag is worse when they fly from west to east, which is the same direction in which the Earth spins on its axis.

Advice for reducing jet lag
Before you go

Use a calculator to help you figure out the best way to time your exposure to light before and after your trip. Several calculators can be accessed for free on the Internet–for example, www.bodyclock.com.


Try to be as well rested as possible before you travel. Getting on the flight exhausted or stressed will not improve your trip.


If you can afford it, fly business or first class so you can rest adequately during the flight (especially if you’re flying for business reasons). If you are traveling in economy class, try to ensure that you have as much room around your seat as possible (minimize the bulk of your hand luggage). Get up and stretch your legs on a regular basis.


If you are traveling on a night flight, try to get some sleep. Recline your seat and use the eye shades to shut out the cabin light and ear plugs to minimize the noise.

Food, drink, and exercise

Drink plenty of water during the flight, stretch regularly, and walk around in the plane if possible. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee, and colas, because they cause water loss and can disrupt your rest. Eat light meals.

Once you arrive

On arrival at your destination, try to fit your sleep–wake pattern to the pattern at your destination. For instance, if you arrive early in the morning, expose yourself to daylight and try to stay awake. If you arrive in the evening, try to go to bed at a reasonable bedtime for you.


Hypnotic medications that are short-acting can be useful to ensure that you sleep not only during the flight, but also on arrival at your destination.


There is some evidence that, if properly timed, melatonin can assist with alleviating jet lag (see Is melatonin useful in combating jet lag?). Always use a licensed, quality-controlled preparation of melatonin.

Strategies for dealing with shift-work

Here are some tips you can follow for you to sleep better if you are a shift-worker:

  • Optimize your sleep hygiene. Eye shades and ear plugs are especially useful if you sleep during the day.

  • Attention to bedroom environment. Try to keep the bedroom cool, dark, and as quiet as possible.

  • Exercise regularly. Avoid strenuous exercise before bedtime.

  • Plan to end your sleep as close to the start of the shift as possible. If necessary, take a nap before the night shift.

  • Eat a balanced diet. Smaller meals are better for those starting a night shift.

  • Avoid caffeine and bright light before the end of a night shift to prevent delays in getting to sleep. In very bright environments, wear sunglasses when you are traveling home.

  • If you are very sleepy at the end of the night shift, make safe travel arrangements to get home or take a nap before setting off.

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