Jet Lag and the Circadian Rhythm

Well today I am jet lagged. Couldn’t sleep when was appropriate and now I am desperate to sleep when I need to work.

We hear it mentioned so frequently but what exactly is our circadian rhythm?

Circadian rhythms are natural cycles of the body and mind which begin and end when stimulated by daylight or sun down and in total lasts for around 24 hours. Likely dating back to our ancestors. These cycles are controlled by tiny cells in the brain – right in the middle called the ‘suprachiasmatic nuclei.’

These nuclei are attached to the other parts of the brain and so therefore act as a control centre. They regulate body temperature, sleep, wakefulness and also hormone levels.

There is a connection between your eyes and the nuclei too. Therefore day light can be detected and fire up your internal clock. People who lose their vision may struggle with their own sleep patterns.

People who work shifts or travel over different time zones are likely to struggle with their circadian rhythms though some more than others. I know I was awful on night shifts. I would feel sick, have indigestion, irritability and insomnia when I did want to sleep during the day. Many colleagues would be skipping around the wards at 3am.

If you are suffering with jet lag, follow these tips.

If possible select a flight that arrives early evening and stay up a little later than usual.

If you sleep during the day, take a short nap but no longer than 2 hours. Set an alarm.

Try and anticipate the new time zone, and adjust a few days earlier by getting up or staying up a little longer than usual.

Get on the plane and change your watch to the new time zone. Try and sleep when you would in the new destination.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine 5 hours before bed time.

Take ear plugs for the flight and eye masks. For some, these can help sleep by avoiding noise or light disturbance. They may be handy off the plane too.

If you are tired and need to wake up, get out in the sunlight to try and fire up your day time rhythm.

Otherwise just pass out like I have here after a night shift…

(If you suffer with diabetes, remember to take medical advice regarding when to take your insulin over different time zones.)

Dr Jenna asleep

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