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Home / General Travel Tips /
Fighting Jet Lag

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Fighting Jet Lag

by Lorry Patton

The symptoms of jet lag Ė light-headiness, low concentration, irritability, tiredness Ė are basically our bodyís way of telling us our normal sleep patterns have been disrupted Ė we arrive at our destination at sunrise when itís really midnight at home confusing our inner biological clock. In addition to lack of sleep, weíve sat still for hours in a pressurized cabin with low humidity and a constant humming noise which leaves us with plugged-up ears, dehydrated and stiff. The amount of time it takes us to adjust depends on our age, our health, how much we prepared for our flight and our activity on board the plane. Here are some tips on how to prepare and what to do on the plane.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

The healthier your lifestyle, the better your body is able to cope. Have a good nightís sleep before you leave and start a stretching regiment. If you are able, go to bed a little earlier or later (depending if your flying east or west) several days before your trip so that your body adjusts to the changes slowly. Eat light the day of travel and drink lots of water. If you have a head cold or suffer from hay fever, alleviate the pain you might experience in your ears when ascending and descending by using either nasal sprays, decongestant or antihistamines about 30 minutes before the plane leaves. Even healthy folks suffer with earaches when the pressure changes quickly in the cabin. Swallowing, chewing gum, sucking a candy and yawning helps ease the pressure. To encourage swallowing, babies can be given a soother or a bottle, older children can be given candy and gum.

Once in the air, the high altitudes of up to 8000 feet and low humidity can cause dehydration. Stay away from diuretics like alcohol, coffee, tea and colas. If you are not willing to give up your favorite beverages, drink more water and juices to compensate. If you wear contacts replace them with glasses. To avoid puffy eyes and swollen ankles, the symptoms of water retention, start filling up on water and juices before you board.

Prepare your own personal plane care kit ( a plastic zip bag) to take on board. It should include: eye shades, earplugs, inflatable neck cushion, socks, chap stick, hand lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste, trail mix, bottled water, candy, gum and a pocket novel.

WHEN TO FLY

Since the major cause of jet-lag is lack of sleep, the more sleep you can get the quicker your body adjusts to the new time zones.

When flying overseas and you have a choice (usual on oversea flights, you donít), and you can not sleep on a plane no matter what, you will be more comfortable if you leave on a morning flight. If you are one of those lucky people who can sleep sitting up, choose a night flight.

When flying west, leave late in the day, and go to bed early in your new time zone. You shouldnít have too much trouble falling asleep since itís way past your bedtime.

When flying east across 3 or 4 time zones, choose an early flight, so that you can arrive in the evening, in time for a good nightís rest. If your inner clock says itís still too early for bedtime, drink chamomile tea (bring a tea-bag with you), eat a banana or try melatonin*.

AT THE AIRPORT

LUGGAGE

Since most luggage is on wheels now, itís easy to forget to keep carry-ons lightweight and manageable. Remember, you have to lift it overhead yourself; the flight attendants are not there to put your luggage away. Be aware, too, besides the danger of pulling a muscle, most charter flights have weight restrictions for carry-on luggage and wonít accept it even if the size conforms.

When loading luggage overhead, donít lift with your arms out; keep your arms close to your body and brace yourself against the back or arm of the seat as you lift. Preferably, stow the bag beneath the seat in front of you so you can use it to rest your feet later in the flight. When you want the space to stretch your legs, put it in your lap for a moment or two.

AISLE OR WINDOW

If you want to walk about or want to stand up without banging your head on the overhead bin, or you need to use the toilet frequently and donít relish disturbing those seated next to you, then choose the aisle seat. However, if you think you would be more comfortable leaning on the window wall and donít mind disturbing fellow passengers, then choose the window seat. If part of the attraction of a window seat is for the view of take-offs and landings make sure your window seat is not over the wings. As a rule, the view out the window becomes less important the longer the flight. Couples who both prefer aisles seats will choose seats on both sides of the aisle, so they can still converse.

FRONT OR REAR

Seats in the front of the plane are not as noisy as the rear seats and not as bumpy when going through turbulence. However, you are more likely to find a couple empty seats in the back center aisle so as soon as the plane door shuts, itís not unusual to see people scrambling to the empty seats so they can lift the arms and stretch out. . If you are very tall or have extra long legs, or are a very large person, ask to be seated by an exit door or in the bulkhead seats. These seats always have more leg room. However, there are drawbacks with both choices. The arms between the seats in the bulkhead donít lift up (the tray is stowed in the arm) and there is nowhere to stow your luggage for take-off and landings. However, you can put it overhead and then retrieve it during the flight when the captain turns off the seatbelt sign. The seats at the exit doors require that you understand how to react in case of an emergency. It is your responsibility to open the door and help others vacate the plane if it becomes necessary.

Rarely are the bulkhead seats or the exit door seats made available prior to the day of departure. You have to book these seats at the airport, so come early. Also be aware that if a baby is on board, the bulkhead seats are given to the parents so a basinet can be attached to the wall.

HANG LOOSE

The goal here is to remain relaxed and calm.

Arrive at the airport well-rested. For domestic flights give yourself an hour to check-in and get through security. International flights that require you to check through customs and immigration need more time and if you plan on getting duty-free alcohol or cigarettes still more. To arrive at the airport two hours before the flight is not unusual. After you have your boarding pass, go through security as soon as possible. Itís usually less hectic on the other side. When you find your gate locate a quiet area where you can put your feet up and relax over your favorite book. If youíre not loaded down with carry ons, browse through the shops to keep your body active. Donít fret if your plane is delayed.

Boarding begins at the rear of the plane and it does speed the process if everyone complies. However, if you are seated in the front, you might as well wait till everyone boards before getting in line. Unless you have overhead luggage and you want it stowed above your seat and not two seats back. It is a nuisance when you have to go against the crowd to get your bag after youíve landed. .

ONCE ON BOARD

LONG FLIGHTS

In addition to sleep deprivation, symptoms on longer flights may include a stiff neck, leg cramps, indigestion, dry throat, lips, and mouth, headaches, water retention and the very serious Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

SLEEPERS

Ignore the meal services and the movies. Ask for a blanket and a pillow immediately ( if they run out, you have your own). Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes and put on your socks. Put the inflatable pillow around your neck, the pillow behind your back, stick in your ear plugs, put on your eye mask, cover yourself with your blanket, stretch out your legs under the seat in front of you and go to sleep. Have your seat belt fastened loosely so you arenít awakened to buckle up. (As someone who canít sleep unless my legs are level with my head I have been able to doze off when I lay my head forward on a pillow on the food tray in front of me.)

Drink water every time you wake up (walk to the crewís galley and ask a flight attendant for a bottle of water), walk up and down the aisle and stretch your calve muscles by rocking up and down on your toes. You will disembark not completely rested, however, your body will adjust much quicker to your new time zone if you can sleep for a few hours on the plane.

NON-SLEEPERS

While in your seat unbuckle your own belt, loosen your tie, take your shoes off and put on your socks. Every 30 minutes arch your back, point your toes and heels up and down and wiggle your toes. Put a pillow between the back of the seat and the small of your back to keep you from slumping. To further ease your back, raise your legs above your hips by placing your feet on top of your carry on bag. Either watch the movies, listen to music, or read a book. Get up every hour or so and stretch. Drink lots of water and eat light. Disembarking a little hungry is better than leaving the plane with indigestion and an upset stomach from too much wine, desserts, pastas, omelettes, and bread rolls.

SHORT FLIGHTS

Because itís crossing time zones that cause jet lag and not the length of trips, even short flights cause jet lag. Arriving at your destination with the minimum of stress eases the transition so staying comfortable during the flight is important. The basic rules are to get up and move about at least once every hour on any flights over two hours.

ALL FLIGHTS

Arriving at your destination with the minimum of discomfort will help your recover from jet lag quicker.

Because of the low humidity in the planeís cabin, your mouth, nose and lips may become dry. This is only one of several reasons to avoid caffeine, colas and alcohol, which act as diuretics adding to your dehydration. Note, too, that the effects if alcohol are enhanced in higher altitudes. You donít want to arrive with a hangover or a headache. Drink plenty of water and keep your lips moist with chap stick.

Because of long periods of sitting still your blood flow may be restricted in your legs, which may result in Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a clotting of the blood. Although most blood clots are not serious, there is a possibility that one can break off and travel to the brain or lungs which can cause a heart attack or stroke. Itís important to wiggle your toes, rotate your ankles, stretch your legs and move about the plane frequently. Again, drink lots of water, at least a glass an hour to keep your fluid intake up. See your doctor before departing if you have a history of blood problems. He or she may recommend aspirin or elastic stockings and may caution you to stay away from sleeping pills.

ON THE GROUND

If itís before four when you arrive at your destination or if you have a late engagement, get completely undressed and go to sleep for an hour or two. If it is late at night, but your inner clock says morning, check with your physician to see if you can take melatonin. Melatonin works for me, however, be aware that even vitamins and herbs, or over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, react adversely with certain medications. Always check with your physician or pharmacist before taking any drugs, no matter how ďharmlessĒ and read the labels. And keep your diet light even after you arrive at your destination, at least until your inner clock is ticking in the appropriate time zone.

*Our body produces melatonin naturally in our pineal gland and secretes it at night to induce sleep; when our inner-clocks sleep-wake cycles are disrupted, taking melatonin tablets is said to ďresetĒ our inner clock to the new time zones. Itís a controversial drug so do some research before using it and check with your physician before taking any drugs. Melatonin is not sold everywhere