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Sleep, travel and jet lag

Jet lag is tiredness and body clock confusion caused by plane journeys across time zones.

The more time zones crossed, the bigger the effect jet lag can have, especially when flying from west to east.

The body runs to a preset daily routine controlled by the circadian rhythm. This can affect hunger, eating and digestion, bowel and urine habits, body temperature and blood pressure.

Jet lag symptoms

Disturbed sleep is just one symptom of jet lag. It can also make people feel generally unwell and lead to:

Coping with jet lag

It is important to adapt yourself to the routine of your destination time zone as soon as possible. The following suggestions might help you avoid sleep problems when travelling:

  • Several days before travelling, try to gradually adjust your sleeping habits to the destination time zone.
  • Catch up on your sleep before you leave the UK rather than flying when already tired.
  • As soon as you board the flight, reset your watch for the new time zone.
  • While on board, control sleeping including naps.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to adjust to the new rhythm.
  • Avoid napping on arrival. Try to keep active until the right time for you to go to sleep.
  • Remember that daylight can help reset your internal "clock." Take a one-hour walk as soon as you get up in the morning.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Avoid social isolation.
  • Practise good sleep habits while away.
  • For short trips of fewer than four days, consider staying on 'home time'.
  • Spend time outdoors to let natural daylight help reset your body clock.

Adjusting to new surroundings

Many people have trouble sleeping in a hotel room or in an environment different from the one they are used to. These tips may help you sleep better when you are away from home:

  • Bring along a pillow and/or blanket that you're used to. These may help you sleep more comfortably.
  • Pack a few personal objects from home (for example, photographs or a mug) to ease the feeling of being in a new environment.
  • Check your room for potential sleep disturbances including light shining through the curtains. Bring along a sleep mask to block out any light
  • Request a room in the quietest section of the property and make sure that the room is away from any entrance areas or lifts. Use a fan or other "white noise" to cut down sounds of hotel neighbours or street traffic.
  • Check your room’s temperature. Your sleep can be disrupted if the room is warmer than 24˚C or colder than 12˚C.

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