Traveling across more than three time zones can result in jet lag, which is the sleep disturbance that occurs when the body's internal clock has not yet adjusted to the destination time. Symptoms can vary depending on whether you are traveling eastward or westward and may include:
- Poor sleep quality
- Difficulty falling asleep or early-evening drowsiness
- Early awakening or morning drowsiness
- Daytime fatigue or irritability
- Impaired daytime performance
Exposure to daylight can help readjust the sleep-wake cycle. In general, if traveling eastward, exposure to morning and early afternoon light is recommended; for westward travel, exposure to late afternoon and evening light can help with the adjustment. The more time spent outdoors, even on cloudy days, the easier it is to adjust to the new time zone.
When leaving home, it may help to adjust your watch to your destination time, even before arrival. This will allow you to adapt your sleep-wake pattern, meal times, and medication schedule more smoothly during travel. Similarly, upon arrival, it will be important to adhere as much as possible to the new time zone. Try to arrive at least one day prior to important meetings or activities during which your full attention and concentration will be required.
The use of a mild sedative can be helpful to assist with sleep at your destination or during long flights. Your travel health advisor or physician can recommend a sedative if you need one. The hormone melatonin is available in drug and health food stores for the management of jet lag. Because natural melatonin released in our bodies is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, many have found this supplement helpful in adjusting to new time zones. Though it is often used, we generally do not recommend melatonin for jet lag management. Since melatonin is classified as a nutritional supplement, the FDA does not regulate its production.