ABC Guide to Travel Health - Vaccines, Vaccinations

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Jet lag

‘Jet lag’ refers to the various physical and psychological symptoms caused by rapidly crossing multiple time zones (usually more than 3 time zones). Symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty with sleeping and concentration and gastrointestinal disturbance arise because your body clock gets left behind in the place that you departed from. Jet lag increases with number of time zones crossed, direction of travel (worse travelling eastwards) and older age. It usually takes 2/3 to 1 day per time zone crossedfor your body clock to adjust to the new time zone.62 - 64

Precautions and prevention62 - 66

Before the journey:

  • Get the best possible sleep before starting the journey
  • If you can, break a long-haul flight with a stopover

During the journey:

  • Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Don't over-eat, and avoid rich foods, caffeine and alcohol
  • Aim to get as much sleep in every 24 hour away as in a normal 24 hour period at home
  • If one feels sleepy and circumstances permit, then sleep
  • If one cannot get to sleep or wakes spontaneously and cannot get back to sleep within 30 minutes, one should get up and engage in a relaxing seated activity that promotes sleep
  • After a long trip going west, stay awake until it gets dark. After a long trip going east, get up when it gets light.  Sunlight exposure in the afternoon might also help.

In general:

  • Avoid critical tasks shortly after arrival
  • Ensure an optimum sleep environment (quiet and dark; if in-flight use earplugs and eyeshades if necessary – choose a quiet and comfortable hotel when away)
  • Avoid going to sleep hungry, but don’t eat or drink heavily before bed time
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine before bed time
  • For short-stay trips (less than 72 hours) it may be better to stick to a home-time schedule. When staying longer, try to adapt to the schedule at the destination. Outdoor light exposure and gentle exercise may speed the adjustment.
  • Medications (such as short-acting sleeping pills, Melatonin) may be helpful in assisting the adjustment of sleeping but should be used only in accordance with medical advice (see your doctor).

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