As we ease into the cooler months of the year we start to think longingly of warm, distant shores. A mini-break to a tropical getaway or a visit with our loved ones becomes very appealing, but is it worth it when you spend a few days either side of your vacation dealing with jet lag?
Jet lag is loosely defined by a range of symptoms including fatigue, poor sleep, anxiety, bowel motion changes, dehydration and headaches, coordination issues, and increased risk of illness from various colds and flus. All are very unpleasant experiences which can ruin the happy holiday vibe!
Your body being unable to immediately adjust to a new time zone is due to a disrupted circadian rhythm, which is regulated by the hypothalamus found in the brain. When your eye perceives dawn or dusk at a different time than usual this causes the hypothalamus to stimulate activities that your body isn't ready for – and the dreaded jet lag ensues.
Thankfully there is much we can do to prevent many symptoms of jet lag, including fatigue, insomnia or becoming ill.
Plant medicine has the ability to assist you in falling asleep and staying asleep. It is a wise idea to start a nightly ritual with a cup of sleep enhancing tea a few days prior to travelling to allow the body time to get used to the plants and their therapeutic benefits.
A 2000 study found that a natural herbal sedative called valerian (Valeriana officinalis) had the same benefits for sleep as the medication Oxazepam, which is used for insomnia and anxiety. Valerian can help to normalise sleep and lower the amount of wakefulness episodes experienced. However, with valerian its vital to set up a nightly routine before flying as its most beneficial when used regularly.
The Commission E of the German Ministry of Health has endorsed hops (Humulus lupulus) for sleep issues, anxiety and restlessness. A literature review in 2010 endorsed traditional herbal knowledge with their findings, that when valerian and hops are combined sleep parameters show even stronger benefits.
By ensuring good quality sleep the body's energy reserves should naturally increase. If you already suffer from fatigue, perhaps due to stress, then jet lag can further delay a return to vitality.
Consider traditional herbal medicine to boost your energy during the day in the form of Sencha green tea (Camelia sinensis) which has a vitalising action due to the small amount of caffeine it contains. An energising tea blend also containing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) will support your mental alertness, clarity and circulation to the brain. St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) can lift energy levels, particularly for those who are stressed.
When we are stuck in a confined environment such as a plane, with air circulating all the various microbes that travel with us, it isn't surprising that so many become unwell after a flight. I always recommend drinking immune boosting or antiviral herbal teas for a week prior to travelling on a plane. Another practical option is to use a ready-made anti-viral preparation that can be taken by the teaspoonful or that is prepared as a handy spray. Antiviral combinations that contain echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), which supports the activity of immune system cells and the body's defenses, or thyme (Thymus vulgaris), which is a powerful antimicrobial to fight respiratory infection are particularly helpful in avoiding travel induced colds and flus
Other top tips to prevent jet lag include avoiding the dehydrating and sleep disrupting effects of caffeine and alcohol before and during the flight, and to drink plenty of water. Also get up and move around the plane every couple of hours to allow blood flow. Make sure to adapt to the local schedule, so if you arrive at lunchtime then eat some lunch and try to stay awake! Take time to sit out in the sunshine, perhaps take a walk or relax in an outdoor café. The sunlight will stimulate the hypothalamus to reduce the amount of sleep-inducing melatonin that is being produced and help with circadian rhythm reset.
• If symptoms worsen or do not improve, consult your leading healthcare professional.