There are many demands made on modern humans for which our bodies are simply not evolved. A prime example: hurtling through the stratosphere in a metal tube at hundreds of kilometres per hour, a practice commonly known as air travel.
Physically, we're still hunter-gatherers, and our primitive bodies do not take kindly to hi-tech abuse. Our punishment for thinking we can outstrip the pace of evolution is jet lag.
The scientific name is desynchronosis, meaning the body's clock has become “out of synch”. The hunter-gatherer brain is tuned to the slow rhythms of the sun and the seasons, and its sleep-wake cycle is completely thrown when we shuttle it across multiple time zones. The distinctive, profound tiredness that ensues – classified as a sleep disorder – is not to be trifled with, and managing it is vital for happy travelling.
We can't avoid jet lag altogether, but these tips help take the edge off:
· Adjust your daily routine to the new time schedule at your destination as soon as possible, including meals, sleep and other activities. Start adjusting sleep patterns i.e. rising and going to bed, to the new time zone the week prior to your flight.
· If you're arriving at your destination during the day, try to sleep on the plane.
· If you're arriving at your destination at night, try not to sleep on the plane. Instead do static exercises or stroll in the aisle as much as possible.
· Increase fluid intake, both during the flight and after, but avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
· Don't sleep during the day on arrival. Rather, get outdoors: exposure to natural light can help “advance” your body clock.
· Some studies indicate that small doses (about 5mg) of melatonin taken on the day of departure close to target bedtime at your destination and continued for several days help alleviate jet lag. Check with your doctor first if you're on any medication.
· Give yourself sufficient time to overcome jet lag symptoms before an important event. As a guideline, you need one day per time zone crossed to fully recover.
· It also helps counteract jet lag (and general travel fatigue) to break a long-haul flight and overnight en route.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, Enviro and Travel Health Editor, Health24, updated April 2011