Donders Wonders Blog

Away with jetlag!

This post is also available in Dutch.

A holiday in a foreign country is lovely. Unfortunately, travelling to another time zone is often accompanied by annoying jetlag. How do you get rid of that jetlag as quickly as possible?

You can experience jetlag when travelling to another time zone. Symptoms of jetlag are, amongst others, disrupted sleep, fatigue, a bad mood and reduced cognitive capabilities. If you were to suffer from (some of) those disadvantageous consequences, you would want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Scientists have proposed multiple strategies to decrease your jetlag and, eventually, prevent it entirely.

Fine-tune your sleep-wake rhythm
Jetlag is the result of a badly fine-tuned sleep-wake rhythm. This means that you are incredibly tired during the day, but cannot fall asleep at bedtime. Other processes that usually occur automatically are also disturbed. For example, you may not feel hungry at dinner. To get rid of your jetlag, it is important that your sleep-wake rhythm is adjusted correctly as quickly as possible. You can do this by sticking to the rhythm of the time zone you’re in. If you have found a good rhythm, the symptoms will disappear naturally.

A pill for your jetlag
Fine-tuning your rhythm is, of course, easier said than done. Staying awake when you are sleepy and pushing down your breakfast without any hunger is not for everyone. Medication could lend a hand. In particular, taking a dose of melatonin has proven to be useful, according to many studies. Melatonin is a hormone that plays an important role in regulating our sleep-wake rhythm. Our bodies naturally produce the hormone and, at bedtime, increase its concentration in the body. If you have jetlag, the production of melatonin can be disrupted. If you take synthetic melatonin (5 milligrams should be enough) just before bedtime, you will fall asleep more easily and you will sleep better. This way, you can easily recover a proper rhythm. Sporadically using melatonin for a short period of time has almost no side effects. Therefore, it seems like a safe and effective way for adults to combat the effects of jetlag.

Natural remedies
There are alternative ways to get rid of your jetlag without using any medication. Most of science’s attention on natural remedies has been focussed on light therapy. Light therapy exposes you to bright light for a specific time period during the day to enhance alertness and energy levels. In summer, you can just go outside and enjoy the sunlight. If you’re on holiday in a country where it’s wintertime, or if you return in the winter, you might need a special lamp that shines an intense light. The idea behind this is that your brain reacts to the light in order to adjust your sleep-wake rhythm. A lot of light in the morning and in the middle of the day, paired with little light late in the night will help you get back in your rhythm.

A good workout could also reduce jetlag. Exercise has without a doubt a positive effect on many body processes. Furthermore, it can give your body a clear signal that you are awake. This suggestion is, just like the bright light, best used during the day.

Unfortunately, these natural remedies are researched less extensively than the use of melatonin. The effectiveness of the alternatives also seem to be less clear-cut. However, going for a small walk in the sun and some exercise can’t hurt too much if you suffer from jetlag; it doesn’t hurt to try.

Photo by Victor Freitas via Pexels

Original language: Dutch
Author: Angelique Tinga
Buddy: Eva Klimars
Editor: Jill Naaijen
Translator: Wessel Hieselaar
Editor Translation: Christienne Gonzales Damatac

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