The weather is great, that meeting or your holiday can begin - but you feel exhausted. What you have is "jet lag", the well-known phenomenon that troubles many long-haul passengers during their first few days in a far-off country. For while the sun has long been shining, your body thinks it's still at home, where it is now the middle of the night or early morning.

 
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Causes

People normally live in a 24-hour rhythm. While we sleep, the heart and breathing rates slow, the blood presssure drops, the muscles relax and the mental and psychomotoric efficiency declines significantly.

A rapid change to another location in another time zone disturbs phases in the human daily rhythm. It interrupts not only people's usual cycles of sleeping and being awake, but also the regular course of a great number of disparate bodily functions that operate in a 24-hour rhythm.

 
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Effects

Tiredness and slowed reactions combined with memory and concentration problems are the most frequent results. People can also feel exhausted and suffer headaches and a sense of nausea due to the interruption of their normal sleeping time.

Jet lag effects are more marked after an Eastbound flight than a Westbound one. The reason for this difference is that the human "inner clock" tends towards a rhythm of more than 24 hours. So if you fly from East to West (such as from Germany to the USA), the day is longer - which tends to suit the biological rhythm. The human body adjusts to the new time zone about 20 percent faster than after an Eastbound flight (such as from Germany to Thailand), because flying East means it "loses" several hours.

 
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General tips on countering jet lag

During the flight

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  • Set your watch to the local time in your destination country soon after boarding your aircraft. This will help you prepare yourself mentally for the new time rhythm that awaits you
 

After arrival

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  • Try to get into the daily rhythm of your destination. That means eating at local mealtimes and not going to bed until after sundown
  • Try to get enough sleep during the first night after your arrival
  • Avoid strenuous activities as much as possible in the first two days after arrival to give your body time to get used to the new daily rhythm
  • Avoid taking sleeping pills and melatonin, because they confuse the human organism even more
  • Spend as much time as you can in the open air - daylight helps the body to adjust faster to the new surroundings
  • On short trips, try to maintain as much as possible the day-night rhythm of your homeland - that will prevent 'double jet lag'
  • If possible, stay at home for one or two days after your journey. This will help you to relax while you get used to the daily rhythm in your homeland again
 
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Westbound flights

Before your journey

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  • Some days before your journey try to partially get used to the new daily rhythm at your destination by going to bed one to two hours later than usual
  • If possible, plan your arrival for about noon so that you can use the brightest light of the day
  • Plan important appointments or meetings in your destination country for a time of day when you feel most awake. After a Westbound flight, this means in the morning

 

During the flight

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  • Try to stay awake during the flight
  • Move around and drink a lot of non-alcoholic beverages in order to fight your natural need for sleep
  • Eat high-protein food (cheese, fish, meat, eggs, dairy products) - this will help you to stay awake longer
 

After arrival

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  • Don't give in to a feeling of tiredness. Go to bed only after sundown
  • Stay in the daylight as much as you can. Light impedes production of the hormone melatonin, which makes people tired and sets the human organism to sleep mode
 
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Eastbound flights

Before your journey

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  • Try to adjust to the new daily rhythm some days before your journey. This means going to bed earlier and getting up earlier
  • Plan important activities for a time of day at which you feel most awake. After an Eastbound flight, this means in the evening
 

During the flight

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  • Try to sleep during the flight
  • Eat high-cabrohydrate food (such as fruit, potatoes, pasta, rice, yoghurt, fruit juices). This stimulates your natural need for sleep
  • Fruit-flavored tea is also good for sleep
  • Try autogenes training or relaxation exercises instead of sleeping pills
  • Avoid alcohol as a way to 'make you tired'. It has a stronger effect than on the ground, dehydrates the body and also delays the human organism's adjustment to the new time zone at your destination

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