Air Travel, Jet Lag, and Sleep Disturbance


Long distance air travel is becoming more common. Americans are traveling overseas and crossing many time zones as a result. Distance travel is exciting, but there can be side effects to the body. Jet lag affects us by altering the circadian rhythm our body is accustomed to in our normal time zone. East to west travel is the most disruptive to our circadian rhythm. What can we do to minimize the effects of distance travel? This article discusses some causes of jet lag and precautions and solutions for distance traveling.


Preparing for Time Zone Travel


When distance travel is in your plans, preparation should begin as soon as the flight is scheduled. Prior to the flight your health must be considered. If you are a diabetic or have heart disease an appointment with your physician should be made prior to your trip. You should take enough medications to last for the length of your trip plus a few extra days in case of flight delays. Ask your physician about medical facilities at your destination. Check with your insurance company to see if you have coverage while traveling or if you need to purchase a supplemental policy for the trip. Some credit cards such as American Express have medical policies available for traveling overseas.


Symptoms of Jet Lag


Jet lag begins during flight. Preparation ahead of time can help mitigate or minimize symptoms once you reach your destination.
  • Dehydration – Flying for many hours dehydrates the body. Coffee, colas and alcohol increase dehydration; water consumption is recommended. If the body gets dehydrated it increases the chances of headaches, sore throat or respiratory problems.

  • Comfort during the flight – Neck, back and leg pain can develop from prolonged sitting. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be a concern. Getting up from your seat and moving around every hour can be helpful. Exercise the neck, arms, hands and legs while seated.

  • Attitude change at altitude – On longer flights, patience may be wearing thin with passengers and crew. Going through customs, procuring your luggage and transportation to your hotel or resort can all add more stress to an already tired body and mind. Having a short temper at this point isn’t uncommon.

  • Disrupted sleep – NASA has reported that it may take up to one day for every time zone hour passed through to return to the normal circadian rhythm of your body. Not everyone reacts to time zone travel in the same way; some people may take less time to adapt in the new location. Exhaustion and just feeling “out of synch” are not uncommon with jet lag.

  • Fatigue and confusion – Becoming disorientated and tired may last for several days upon arrival. Skills such as driving or carrying out a business deal can be impaired. The thought process can become fuzzy and forgetfulness is common. Eating habits may suffer. A lower immunity may be present and can make one’s resistance to infection lower.


How to Manage Jet Lag


There are self-care remedies and personal activities that can help reduce the effects of distance travel and jet lag. Some suggestions and actions are:
  • Schedule Changes in Daily Activity – If possible, start changing your sleep schedule weeks before you leave on the trip. If traveling to Europe, gradually back up your bedtime an hour and get up an hour earlier in the morning. Even a couple of hours will help expedite the transition from your normal time zone to the new time zone. When traveling west, getting sunlight as soon as possible in the day will help balance the body’s rhythm.

  • Physical Fitness – Exercise and build stamina and cardiovascular strength, especially for a sightseeing trip where walking or climbing are part of the tour. Follow a diet that excludes the typical “junk foods”. Obtain adequate 7-8 hours of rest per night.

  • Avoid alcohol and large quantities of caffeine – Several days before you leave curtail alcohol and caffeine consumption. Begin drinking more water to hydrate the body.

  • Clothing – Wearing comfortable clothing when traveling will reduce binding and tightness, which can impede your circulation. Wear clothes that are consistent with your final destination and shoes that are easy to slip on and off.

  • Accommodations – Check the room and amenities upon arrival, and if they are not satisfactory request a different room. Comfort is very important for good sleep and the better your sleep, the faster the adaptation to your destination.

  • Get More SunSunlight helps reset the circadian rhythm, improves mood and helps fight a lowered immune system. Moderation of exposure is recommended. The sun should hit the face and arms to obtain maximum benefit.


These tips and recommendations for distance travel have been presented to help in reducing jet lag. If you suffer from health issues, always consult your physician regarding your medical condition before distance travel. For spinal complaints see your chiropractor for recommendations and necessary care before your travel.


The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in caring for neck and back complaints.


Call today to make an appointment at (763) 755-4300.


The International Academy of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine