Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Natural remedies for jet lag

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If you are flying at night, try and sleep. Photo / iStock
If you are flying at night, try and sleep. Photo / iStock

I'm travelling overseas for business and really need to hit the ground running. Is there anything natural I can take for jet lag that's easy to carry and won't be a problem at customs?

Travelling overseas can be hard on the body - especially crossing time zones! Jet lag occurs when our circadian rhythm is disturbed and our sleep routine is upset.

Plant remedies can help you re-establish your sleep pattern because they facilitate falling asleep and staying asleep.

Getting into the habit of a cup of sleep tea every night before you begin your travels helps because it gives your body time to start utilising the herbs.

Traditional medicinal plants with sedating properties such as valerian (valeriana officinalis), hops (Humulus lupulus) and lemon balm (melissa officinalis) are well researched for their sleep supporting properties.

Valerian is used to help the body maintain sleep throughout the night. It benefits not only those travelling but those that often wake up during the night. With valerian it is important to have an established routine before you fly because the best benefits from this plant are achieved with regular use.

In a randomised double-blind trial, valerian was shown to have similar efficacy to oxazepam for treating insomnia. A double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trial showed valerian helped to normalise sleep, lower the amount of wakefulness episodes, and also helped to promote a more efficient sleep.

In another randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial a combination of lemon balm and valerian was given to volunteers.

The results showed that after consuming the preparation 30 minutes before going to bed, there was a noticeable difference in sleep patterns and improvement in sleep parameters after three weeks (Dressing, H. et al 1996).

Hops is a herb that has been used to help with sleep and relaxation for centuries.

In Germany, the Commission E of the former German Health Department supports using hops to treat sleeping disorders as well as restlessness and anxiety. Numerous studies confirm that when hops are combined with valerian they show even stronger improvements in sleep parameters.

Lemon balm helps relaxation and reduces anxiety that can occur if people are finding it difficult to sleep. A 2006 study showed that in children under 12, over 80 per cent found wakefulness reduced while 70 per cent found a decrease in restlessness after consuming a combination of valerian and lemon balm.

Coming back to overcoming jet lag, it is always important to remember to keep hydrated on the trip, and to stick to your internal body clock. If you are flying at night, try and sleep.

I have found most flight attendants are more than happy to bring hot water so that you can brew your own sleep tea. When you get to your destination try and stay awake until the local night time to try and restore some "normalcy".

With regard to customs, I never had any issues with commercially packed teas, including medicinal herbal teas. But your best option is to always declare!

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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