I just returned from a trip to Asia. Before leaving, I researched various ways acupuncture could help during my travels. I looked into various treatments for any digestive issues which might arise as this sort of problem is quite common with any trip to Asia due to the different types of foods and various levels of hygiene in restaurants. Acupuncture is known to help with jet lag, so this was the first trip I tried an acupuncture treatment specifically designed to help with jet lag on myself.
As the high season of traveling is upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to give an idea of how acupuncture can help with jet lag.
For anyone traveling further away this year, that is to say more than five time zones from our own, jet lag can be a real problem during the trip.
Jet lag occurs when the natural circadian rhythm in our body becomes disrupted due to crossing many time zones during the flight.
Symptoms can last from 1 to 10 days and may include fatigue, mental confusion, insomnia, headache, edema, nausea, disorientation, etc. In general, flights to the east of the point of embarkation result in more severe symptoms than flights heading to the west. This means that flights to Europe can be more difficult on our bodies than the return flight back to Quebec. The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) estimates that this disturbance to the normal circadian rhythm of the body takes about one day of recovery for each time zone that is crossed. A shorter one week or two week trip can be severely affected due to jet lag.
In our body, there are many internal biological ‘clocks’. The ones that follow a 24 hour period are referred to as circadian cycles. The sleep/wake cycle is a good example. Light and darkness trigger this cycle. The hormone melatonin is secreted by the thyroid and produced in the dark as we sleep. This hormone begins to fade at daylight as bright lights turn this hormone off. When we travel, our circadian rhythm is not in line with the new light/dark cycle. Hence we feel tired, confused, and often have some form of insomnia.
Before going on my trip, I gave myself an acupuncture treatment to help re-set this internal clock. After a 12 hour flight to Tokyo, I arrived in the evening and found lodging for the night. The next day, I awoke as usual and spent the entire day visiting various sites in Tokyo with no symptoms of jet lag.
During my research, I came across an interesting treatment anyone can do during their flight. It was developed by John Amaro, DC, Lac., and it involves stimulating various acupuncture points either with massage or the end of a closed ball point pen. Talk with your acupuncturist about the meridian times and horary points to use so that they can show you where the points are and how to stimulate them during your flight.
Acupuncture is a great tool to use just before leaving on a long voyage, as well as after returning, as it can help the body return to its normal cycles quicker and help relieve the fatigue due to traveling.
During long flights I also recommend staying as hydrated as possible before, during, and after the flight with water. You can also humidify your skin during the flight with a small water spritzer. Alcohol, beer, coffee, tea, and soda should all be severely discouraged during a flight. There is no real replacement for water. Airplanes are not very well designed to encourage sleep (at least for the coach class!). That being said, it is always a good idea to get as much sleep as possible during any long-distance flight. When you arrive at your destination, it is best to stay awake until a reasonable time in the evening or night so that you are less likely to wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning.