Pathways to Wellness

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Jet lag

Yukoners are frequent flyers, and often cross many time zones to visit friends and family, find adventure, or soak in some sun in the winter months.  Jet lag occurs because your body’s sleep-wake cycle is “out of sync” with the time zone of your destination.  What are some strategies to manage jet lag?

If you are just going one or two time zones away to Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba, try to stay on your usual routine – it’s only a 1 or 2 hour difference.

If your destination is 3 or more time zones to the East, gradually shift your sleep-wake cycle in the days before you fly out, by going to bed ½ hour earlier for each time zone. For example, if you are travelling to Ontario and your usual bedtime is 10:00, go to bed at 9:30 3 days before departure, 9:00 2 days before, and 8:30 on the night before you leave.  That way, your internal clock will only be 1.5 instead of 3 hours off Ontario time.

This approach won’t work for really long flights, but should work well for travel in Canada and the continental US. It will also make early morning departures from Whitehorse a bit easier. But you’ll have to find an alternative to last minute, late night packing!

Melatonin, a hormone involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles, has also been shown to help manage jet lag and is helpful when you are travelling long distances.  A major review of studies led to the following conclusions:

  • The benefits are greatest when you are travelling over 5 or more time zones, and particularly in the easterly direction.
  • Timing is critical – melatonin should be taken close to the target bedtime of your destination on the day you arrive and for four more days.
  • An effective dose is anywhere between 0.5 and 5 mgs, but people fall asleep faster and have a better sleep at 5mgs.  Slow release melatonin is less effective than fast acting.
  • Melatonin has few side effects, and occasional short-term use is generally safe for healthy adults. However, it can interact with some conditions (e.g., epilepsy) and some medications (e.g. warfarin) so it’s always important to talk with your health care provider to ensure that it’s a good choice for you.

Two other tips: drink water to stay hydrated, and avoid alcohol.  Remember Jet lag is a consequence of modern living – our bodies just weren’t built to adapt to large shifts in our day-night cycle in a single day.  Be realistic and kind to yourself.