Walking off the airplane, my head feels fuzzy. The thought of looking for my luggage with three hundred other tired and ill-tempered people makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach. My recent summer trip across eight time zones made me stop and ponder—what is jet lag, why does it happen, and is there anything I can do about it?
Definition of jet lag
Jet lag: a disruption of circadian rhythms associated with high- speed travel by jet airplane. Let’s get to the root of what is going on in our body that makes us feel fuzzy, disoriented and just plain cranky.
Why do we get jet-lagged?
Jet lag involves more than just lack of sleep—which is why a quick nap and a double espresso won’t fix the problem. Simply, our bodies possess an internal clock called the “circadian.” Elements such as light, food and exercise help determine our circadian clock. Crossing time zones far too swiftly changes the timing of those cues and throws our body out of sync.
Jet travelers —try these remedies…
Stay calm and relaxed prior to your flight. Being stressed with excitement or worry will only contribute to jet lag. A good night’s sleep just prior to departure will start you out on the right track.
Airplane air isn’t optimal. It is dry and stale. Dry air causes dehydration, which can contribute to feeling tired, cause a headache, and accentuate dry skin and nasal irritation. Tackle dehydration by carrying your own drinking water along with you. Drink at least 8 ounces of water every eight hours while you are traveling.
Food and Drink
The airplane’s pressurized cabin exacerbates the effects of alcohol and coffee from two to three times their normal result. In addition, both of these drinks have a diuretic (squeezing the water from your cells) effect on your body. Listen to what your body is asking for: water. It is what your body wants and needs. Additionally, go easy on the food being served during your flight. Sitting in a cramped seat doesn’t do much for your digestion. Frankly, if you can stick with light foods such as fruit, grains and a small amount of protein, your digestion will thank you and it will make things easier on your body during the trip. Why not pack your own snack bag? Try this: a couple of pieces of fruit, some whole grain crackers with cheese, and some nuts. These items may even seem more appealing than what is under the foil of that tray served up in front of you.
Lack of Movement
Lack of movement is one of the worst things about a long-haul flight. It’s not only the discomfort of having to sit still in a confined space, but this lack of motion can set you up for a longer period of jet lag afterwards. When it is practical, try and get up from your seat and walk around or, while you are waiting in line to use the bathroom, stretch your arms and legs. Do some stretching exercises (especially for your legs) while in your seat. It will help freshen your blood supply, tone your muscles, and keep you energized.
NASA experts agree that light, when used correctly, is the best remedy for helping travelers get adjusted to a new time zone. In fact, NASA sometimes quarantines astronauts prior to a launch. The astronauts are doused with light to help prepare their body clocks for space travel. They describe it to be “like fuel, shifting you to a later or earlier hour.” Figuring out the precise time to use light can be tricky, but here is a general rule of thumb: when you are headed east on an overnight flight, seek sunlight or artificial light in the mid- to late morning at your destination. If you are traveling west, it is best to wait to sit in the sun until the late afternoon and early evening.
I am looking forward to my next opportunity for travel to a far-away destination and to putting some of these new ideas to the test.