What Scientists are Learning About Jet Lag

Anyone who crosses more than two time zones can expect to experience jet lag. For some travelers, jet lag is merely an annoyance. For others, jet lag can slow their ability to think, reason and react, putting them at greater risk of injuries and accidents.

Jet lag is caused by an interruption of the circadian rhythms that control sleep timing, moods and the release of hormones. As people cross time zones, their internal clocks get out of sync with the time in their new location.

There are few effective treatments to lessen the effects of jet lag. However, a new type of light therapy shows promise. Scientists at Stanford University exposed research subjects to short flashes of light as they slept, and found it to be more effective at reducing jet lag that an accepted, but more extensive therapy that requires sitting in front of bright lights for hours the day before travel.

Scientists believe that flashing lights can train the brain more quickly to adjust to time zone changes and are more effective at resetting circadian rhythms than longer doses of light. The most effective treatment studied at Stanford involved flashing light every 10 seconds for about as long as a camera’s flash. More testing is planned for this new form of light therapy.

In the meantime, travelers can try to reduce the effects of jet lag by avoiding dehydration during and after long plane flights, as dehydration can worsen some jet lag symptoms. Once they arrive at their destination, travelers should spend as much time in the sunlight as possible to help their bodies to adjust to a new time zone; however, doctors recommend that people who are traveling west should avoid light in the morning the first few days in a new time zone.

Jet lag seems to affect some people more than others. Travelers who are most likely to experience jet lag include those who are traveling east, crossing more than two time zones, older adults, and frequent travelers, including pilots and flight attendants.

Adjusting to Jet Lag

As a general rule, it takes travelers one day for every time zone crossed to shake off jet lag and adjust to a new time zone. Symptoms of jet lag can include headache, upset stomach or indigestion, lack of concentration and an overall rundown feeling. The most dangerous of these for travelers is lack of concentration. According to a well-quoted study from the New England Journal of Medicine, “The loss of merely one hour of sleep can increase the risk of traffic accidents.” For travelers crossing multiple time zones, the risk of an accident is even greater.

Medical Transport Services from SentinelMED

Although jet lag doesn’t typically require medical treatment, it can be a contributing factor in accidents for drivers as well as pedestrians. And accidents that occur far from home can create challenges for patients and their families.

SentinelMED provides domestic and international medical transport to the injured and elderly, as well as medical repatriation and medical escort services. The SentinelMED team works closely with hospital case managers to coordinate care for patients from a medical facility to a health care facility closer to their home, or to the home of a family member. In many cases, our trained medical escorts travel with patients on commercial airlines to help ensure their safety and comfort. This service can be a cost-effective alternative to air ambulance services.

The SentinelMED team understands the complexity of delivering exceptional care to patients who need assistance during travel. Please contact us to learn more about the services that SentinelMED offers or its staff.

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