Jet Lag...What a terrrible feeling!

Jet lag is that awful condition we get after we have traveled far away, across many time zones. Your sleep is disturbed, with many having trouble falling asleep, or some may wake up in the middle of the night. Headaches may also happen, and some people experience indigestion. It is WORSE when we travel across 6-9 time zones (meaning the time difference is 6-9 hours), and when you travel from west to east (Example: from Europe back to Malaysia). Children may describe it differently, as they may not be old enough to express themselves. My daughter for instance, describes it as "a guilty feeling" whenever we asked her to go to bed after coming back from Europe.

Jet lag happens because our internal body clocks cannot adapt to the actual time of the destination. When our bodies feel like going to bed, the time at the new destination is day time. And when we are supposed to get up and start the day, it's sleeping time in the new destination.

But it's not sleep alone that makes jet lag so bad. Other body cues (or time) for food, and exercise also makes it hard for us to readjust. My personal experience when coming back from a long trip to Europe was that I would get very hungry at 2am, the time I'm supposed to eat dinner in Europe.

Jet lag can affect anybody, but not everybody experiences it to the same degree. It can be just one night's troubled sleep for some people, but it can be as bad as a week's rhythmic disruption for others. Jet lag usually affects children much more than adults, and certain people with depression or other mental disorders may also find jet lag very very disturbing.

So how do we fight jet lag, or at least lessen its effects?

1. For a start, it's good that we PLAN AHEAD to accommodate jet lag into our schedule. If you're a Malaysian traveling to Europe, the 1st day of travel will feel a lot longer than usual, so don't make the 1st day of travel super action packed. You may take a small nap (less than 30 mins) if you feel really sleepy, but make sure you are still tired enough to sleep at night according to the destination time.

If you're coming back from Europe to Malaysia, don't plan to start work the very next day. If possible, take a few more days off for unpacking, and also to let your body re-adapt to Malaysian time. If you're traveling with children, they may take up to a week to recover from jet lag! Children recover at the rate of about 1 day per time zone, so even if you can adapt well, your child may wake up at 1am and refuse to go back to bed till 5-6am. Imagine entertaining your child the whole night, then going straight to work.

2. Use online jet lag calculators to help in easing your jet lag. We found one that is very straight forward and easy to use, (Click here). Just key in the local time and the destination time, and it will advice you on when it is best to be exposed to light, and when best to be in total darkness.

Light is the most important factor in determining our internal body clock, because our bodies produce a substance called melatonin in response to darkness (and other factors). Melatonin is involved in making us sleep. So when bright lights surround you, less melatonin is produced. By properly timing when you are in bright lights or darkness, it will help your internal clock adapt faster. Sunlight is of course the best light, but brightly lit rooms will serve the purpose just as well.

I had some problems with my daughter when I tried to turn off all the lights in her room, as she was afraid of the dark. So for kids, we have to be extra patient, and be empathic enough to understand their needs.

P/s: Melatonin pills are also available in airports of other countries like Singapore, and if you are the type who REALLY have trouble sleeping, taking a melatonin pill will definitely be of help. Sadly, melatonin is not legal in Malaysia due to registration issues.

3. EAT according to your USUAL times! If you usually eat breakfast at 8am, make sure you do the same at your new destination. Eating times will affect the release of certain hormones in our bodies like Insulin etc. If the pattern can be maintained in the new destination, you will "force" or "coax" your body to "reset" faster. If you eat only when the urge comes, you will notice that your eating times will become super inappropriate (yes, referring to the 2 am hunger pangs again).

If you have kids however, you may need to give them something to eat, or at least a full glass of milk before sleep to help them sleep through the night.

4. If you have a regular exercise routine (like you jog every day in the evening), please continue to do so at the destination, at the same time. Exercise helps inform the body on what the "actual" time is, and it can adapt faster. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a believer of using exercise to kick jet lag (photo here).

Kids also benefit from exercise/physical activity during day time. It helps burn off excessive energy they have, and hopefully helps to sleep.

5. Medication. Well, a lot of people will cringe or be afraid of this word, because most people will think of sleeping pills. Yes, sleeping pills are more dangerous, and you need to see a doctor to get a prescription for it. Therefore, we are here to tell you that most sedating antihistamines like Piriton (Chlorpheniramine) and Atarax (Hydroxyzine) can do a very good job of helping you sleep, but they are much safer to ingest. Do consult your pharmacist before you try it though. Keep this as a last resort.

6. Lastly, if you have the luxury to break your trip up, or travel slower, it does help in preventing jet lag. The term Jet lag itself was only coined after jet travel was made public, because if you traveled by other means, it won't be drastic enough to cause severe rhythmic disruption. An example is if you plan to travel to New Zealand from Malaysia, it may be a good idea to stop by somewhere in Australia for a few days, then continuing there.

Hopefully the article above helps! Do let us know if you have comments or questions in our facebook page!