Fighting Jet Lag

Jet lag is that horrid feeling of tiredness or confusion after long journeys by plane and a change in time zones. In this section we are going to explore some top tips and medication that you can use to help you with this change.

Usually, it takes up to one day for each hour of change in time zone for your body to adjust. For example, if you are traveling from Montreal to France (a 6 hour time difference), it would take approximately 6 days for your system to get fully accustomed to the new time zone. You will be functional on the first few days (holiday excitement helps!) but you may still feel a little tired/jetlagged.

(Note that these conversions are not absolute, and a shorter recovery time is highly possible.)

‘So how should I deal with jetlag?’

Good question! You should start by comparing time zones with your destination.For Example:  

·       Traveling EAST from Montreal to France

·   Flight time : 6 PM from Montreal (12 AM in France)

·       Flight duration: approximately 6 hours

In this case, you will want to sleep during the flight. You will get to France around 6 AM local time, and it will feel as if you had a short night’s sleep.

Let’s look at another example, travelling the opposite way.

·       Traveling WEST from France to Montreal

·   Flight time : 1 PM from France (7 AM in Montreal)

·       Flight duration: approximately 7 hours

In this case, you want to try and stay awake during the flight (you can have a nap if you want). You will get to Montreal around 2 PM and should try to stay awake throughout the day – perhaps go to bed a bit earlier that first night and have a longer night sleep to fully recuperate.

‘OK, so now that I know how to deal with time zones, what medication can I take to help me with sleep?’

1)  Always ask your doctor for the medication you can take on the plane (benzodiazepines are the most often prescribed).

2)  Benadryl® 25 to 50 mg may also help you sleep. It is actually a side effect of this medication that we use to our advantage. Take this pill approximately 30 minutes before the time you want to fall asleep. It should last between 4 to 6 hours, possibly longer. Note that Nytol®, another brand, is also the same molecule (diphenhydramine). Keep it mind that you might feel drowsy when you wake up. This medication can also make your mouth feel dry.

3)  Gravol® 50 mg may also help you get to sleep, as one of its side effect. However, it comes handy for motion sickness as well. See Motion Sickness topic for further details. Drowsiness and dry mouth are also some side effects to be aware of.

4)  Melatonin® This molecule is a natural health product. Melatonin is already present in your body and it is your physiological switch for bedtime, as a regulator. By taking an extra dose, you are increasing the concentration of Melatonin in your system, therefore, taking melatonin changes the switch to "off-mode/sleep mode". It is advised to start taking the medication in the evenings at least a few days before and after the change in time zones. It will help your body acclimate to the difference in time and lighting.

You may start with 3 mg once a day, approximately 30 minutes before bedtime. If it doesn’t work, you can increase the dosage to 9mg per day. Common side effects are drowsiness, dizziness and possible daytime fatigue.

Melatonin will usually help you get 5 to 7 hours of sleep. Just be aware that Benadryl®, Nytol® and Gravol® can give you a ''hangover'' type of feeling in the morning. I would recommend trying these a couple of weeks before your departure, if sleep disturbance is something common throughout your travels. Note that a big time zone change may be challenging for your medication schedule. In such a case, please don't hesitate to contact a healthcare professional for more information and advice on how you should manage this.


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Louise Tommasini