Prescriptions for jet lag
Some travellers rely on alcohol to help them relax and get to sleep on the plane. Dr Kirsch warns that those who take drugs to help them sleep during flight should be sure to avoid alcohol, drink plenty of water and stretch and move around as much possible before and after naps. “Sitting or lying still for hours on a plane can lead to blood clots,” she said.
Another popular over-the-counter sleep aid widely used to improve sleep and battle jet lag is a synthetic form of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the body’s pineal gland each day as the sun sets. Travellers can take one to three milligrams of melatonin during a long flight and/or at their destination to help fall asleep and adjust their circadian rhythms.
“Although the proper types and timing of meals helps your body produce melatonin naturally and at precisely correct times, the addition of melatonin pills can enhance this effect,” wrote Bill Ashton of StopJetLag.com, a California company that prepares detailed pre-trip eating/drinking/sleeping schedules for travellers embarking on trips across time zones. “The timing for using melatonin is based on both your personal profile and the flight times in your itinerary.”
Low doses of melatonin can also help jet-lagged travellers who awaken in the middle of the night to fall back to sleep.
In the United States, melatonin is sold as a food supplement, not a drug or medication. Since certain forms of melatonin are derived from animal products, some countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, have banned the sale of melatonin over fears of the transmission of viruses.
There are a wide variety of pills, potions and products designed to help travellers overcome the effects of jet lag without drugs. For example, the popular Jet Lag Formula (taken during long distance flights) contains a blend of 12 herbs that boost the immune system, offset dehydration and improve circulation. Bulldozer is a new airport-security-friendly 3-oz blend of B vitamins and fruit juices combined with melatonin, rose hips and valerian root -- all used by herbalists to help travellers cope with anxiety and insomnia. Then there is NightWave a portable, battery operated device that focuses the mind and regulates breathing using a soft blue light that pulsates on the bedroom or hotel room ceiling, hopefully lulling travellers into the time zone of their vacation or business trip.
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Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel.