3 ways doctors can treat jet lag

Originally published in Insidermedicine

As international travel becomes increasingly commonplace, the clinical problem of jet lag is highlighted in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Here are some recommendations for managing jet lag from the American Academy of Sleep medicine:

• Melatonin supplementation should be used as the standard treatment

• Scheduling of sleep and timed exposure to light are reasonable treatment options

• Pharmacotherapy with hypnotics and stimulants are also reasonable treatment options

A sleep expert out of the Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland defines jet lag as a sleep disorder that occurs when time zones are traversed too rapidly for the circadian clock to keep pace, causing a misalignment between the circadian clock and local time. Primary symptoms are insomnia and daytime sleepiness but can also include dysphoria, impaired physical and cognitive functioning, and gastrointestinal disturbance.

There are three main treatment strategies for jet lag. Therapeutic resetting of the circadian clock can be attained by optimizing light exposure or supplementation with melatonin. Strategic scheduling of sleep can involve remaining on one’s home sleep/wake schedule while on short trips or shifting one’s sleep schedule by 1 to 2 hrs a day before departure. Finally, pharmacotherapy involving short course hypnotics to promote sleep in the evening and agents that promote alertness, such as caffeine, to promote wakefulness during the day, can be helpful.