A graduate of the University of Liverpool (UK) in 2001, Dr Rodger completed a membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (UK) in 2005. He has worked in General Practice in London and South East England in a variety of settings, including family practice and the corporate sector and now works at the International Medical Clinic at the Camden Medical Centre.
Long haul flights are an inevitable part of the expatriate experience in Singapore, whether for business or leisure. Here are some basic tips on how to fight it.
Jet lag refers to disturbed sleep patterns, weakness and disorientation caused by disruption to your normal body clock when travelling through several time zones. Generally speaking it takes one day to get over two hours of jet lag. Therefore a trip from the UK to Singapore (a time difference of 8 hours in the winter months) can take fully four days to recover from. Frequent travelers report that jet lag is worse when you move from west to east because the body finds it harder to adapt to a shorter day than a longer one.
Disturbed sleep is just one symptom of jet lag. It can also make people feel generally unwell and lead to the following:
- Stomach upsets, lack of appetite, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea
- Finding it hard to concentrate, disorientation, anxiety, irritability, memory problems, clumsiness
- Loss of energy, light-headedness, confusion, headaches, sweating, muscle soreness
- Menstrual (period) irregularities in women who are frequent travelers
A few days before you travel, start getting up and going to bed earlier (if you're travelling east) or later (if you're travelling west). During red eye flights any amount of sleep on the flight may help you to stay up until night time once you arrive at your destination.
Including a stopover in your flight can make it easier to adjust to the time change. However this depends when the stopover is. Unless the flight is very long haul (e.g. UK to Australia) a long flight followed by a short one is probably best as a mid-trip stopover can be even more exhausting and potentially increase the overall duration of your trip. During an airport transit try to take advantage of a refreshing shower in the terminal, if possible.
Eyeshades and noise cancelling headphones may help you sleep. Dehydration can intensify the effects of jet lag so you should avoid diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine drinks: these can disturb sleep and cause irregular toilet breaks.
Medication options include melatonin, formed by the body at night or in darkness, to try to fight jet lag. Sleeping tablets (hypnotics) are best avoided - however for long distance business trips that only last for a couple of days, these tablets can be a short term option on your arrival and return. Dependence builds up very quickly, so try to take these for no more than 1-2 nights.
You do not necessarily need a full night’s sleep to acclimatize on your arrival. A good block of four hours at night can be topped up by naps during the day if possible. Exposure to daylight at the destination will usually help you adapt to the new time zone faster as this helps set the body’s internal clock.
Dr Michael Rodger
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