New Attention from the Pharmaceutical Industry may Help Travelers Cope with Jet Lag

From airport security, to long flights, and the anxiety of arriving in an unfamiliar place – there is no doubt traveling can be exhausting.  One of the greatest difficulties of long distance travel is jet lag, as it can affect travelers for several days after arriving at their destination.  Jet lag is among the most common sleep disorders and affects all travelers – from frequent fliers to occasional vacationers.  The symptoms of jet lag generally include daytime fatigue, sleep disruption, and difficulty concentrating, however it may also cause dehydration, coordination problems, irritability, and even digestive problems. 

Jet lag happens because rapid travel over time zones throws off the circadian rhythms by disrupting the  the “biological clock” which is paced by many daily routines, such as meal times and light exposure. It occurs when crossing two or more time zones, and is typically worse when traveling east due to the fact that the natural rhythm of the clock tends to favour a drift to later and later bed times and wake times, and therefore adapts more quickly when we travel in a direction that creates this type of delay. While it is only a “temporary” sleep disorder, jet lag can create challenges for travelers and make it difficult to take full advantage of trips, especially when they are a short duration.  The excessive sleepiness of jet lag can be dangerous  when someone tries to drive a car or operate machinery. 

With business and international travel on the rise, pharmaceutical companies have sought remedies to minimize the effects of jet lag. Currently, the drug Nuvigil (Armodafinil), produced by Cephalon, is pending approval from the the F.D.A (U.S) to become the first drug available to specifically combat jet lag. Nuvigil is a prescription medicine used to improve wakefulness throughout the day in adults with excessive sleepiness, and is now prescribed to patients with sleep disorders such as, narcolepsy, and shift-work disorder. In treating jet lag, Nuvigil could be approved to treat the sleepiness associated with jet lag disorder, but not to shift the body clock to the new time zone. Cephalon plans to aim Nuvigil at business travelers traveling to Europe for a couple of days, and not to those staying longer term. But with the high cost – about $9.00 (U.S) per pill for each day of travel, Nuvigil will have to compete with its much less expensive predecessor modafinil (Alertec, Provigil), which is a virtually identical product. Yes… the pharmaceutical industry keeps finding ways to reformulate and patent drugs to keep the profits high. But until these products are approved,  travelers will have to turn to other other common and more accessible strategies such as coffee, sleeping pills, and melatonin.

While there is no cure for jet lag, there are some easy tips to minimize its effects and promote fun, safe, and smooth travels:

  • Start shifting your schedule a few days before your flight (i.e going to bed earlier, shifting mealtimes)
  • Stay well hydrated while airborne
  • Adapt to your new schedule while in flight (i.e change your watch and eating/sleeping patterns accordingly)
  • Try to arrive early in the day and stay up until at least 10:00 pm on the day you arrive
  • Spend time outside during the day as natural light will promote wakefulness
  • Move around! Both while in-flight and at your new destination
  • Consume food that is similar to what you would have at home. The all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is never a good idea, unless you routinely visit one on the way to work each morning
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