Ask the doctors

As a businessman I travel a lot, and jet lag is often a problem for me. What is the best treatment for this?

Travelling overseas and spending hours in airport lounges and on planes is tiring for most people.

Jet lag happens when you travel over several time zones, which affects the body's normal circadian rhythm. Symptoms can include sleep disturbance, fatigue, poor concentration and gastrointestinal upsets such as heartburn, indigestion or diarrhoea.

A review written by Dr Charles Samuels, a sleep expert at the University of Calgary, in the May 2012 issue of the , provides insight on athletes' jet lag. He focuses on how they recover and how sleep optimises their performance.

We can learn a few lessons from athletes to stay on top of the game. Make sure you are well-rested before the flight to reduce sleep deficit. During the flight, adjust your watch to your destination's schedule so that you sleep and eat meals based on the time at your final stop. When you are trying to sleep, use appropriate sleep aids such as ear plugs and eye masks.

You can consider using medication to control sleeping patterns, such as mild sleeping pills to doze off or caffeine to stay awake. Melatonin supplements also help.


Medication can be considered if you are taking flights that cross three or more time zones.

Samuels' review suggests that preflight doses of 0.5 to 1.5 milligrams of melatonin have been found to be effective and that 3mg to 5mg are used for the first two to three days after arriving.

It takes two to four days to adapt to a new time zone, so consider going easy on your schedule.

Also, refer to Samuel's review for practical travel tips, including charts with specific recommendations based on the number of time zones you will be traversing.


Dr Anthony Luke is a professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Reprinted with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine's