If there's one area of travel that I am well versed in, it's jetlag. After all, flying long distances over numerous time zones is pretty standard for me and, after years of leisure and business-related travel, I can truly say that I have beaten the bug. Desynchronosis, the medical term for jetlag, is unfortunately a common phenomenon despite changes in air travel over the years. Here are a few tips to help you in your quest to minimize, control or ideally obliterate that dreaded loss of time, sleep, energy, sanity and dignity.
Although some people claim to suffer the malaise on short haul flights that cross time zones (i.e. East to West coast and vice versa), an international flight greater than six hours is the more likely culprit.
Reducing jetlag begins with a pre-flight regimen. Make sure that you get a good night's sleep so that you don't board your flight already exhausted. Also your eating patterns in the 12-24 hours before flying can impact on you. Junk food (and ironically the food of choice of so many people whilst waiting at the airport prior to boarding) can have a dire effect on you, as it can severely dehydrate you, and the sugars and starches can make it extremely difficult to digest. Traveling whilst sick, in particular with a cold, blocked nose or earache can be particularly hard on your body so try to be as healthy as possible on your travel day, or at the very least, have the appropriate medications with you at all times.
If possible, try and choose over-night flights for extreme distances, for example trans-Pacific flights. Even if you end up only sleeping for a few hours, at least you can psychologically feel that you have left at nighttime and in general arrive during the daytime (depending on time differences). For shorter flights and when traveling in an easterly direction, daytime flights can have less of an impact on your body but you can lose a full day of either vacation of constructive work time.
You will be supplied with blankets and pillows on board, but if you are one of these people, who like myself, gets cold on the plane and requires additional blankets, ensure that you have what you need at the beginning of the flight. There is also the issue of hygiene of these items, as it has recently been reported that aircraft blankets and pillows my not be quite as clean and sanitized as you might like. I actually bring my own inflatable or similar neck pillow to alleviate any concern over availability and cleanliness. Dress warmly and above all comfortably, even if it means getting on the flight in a suit and changing into sweats after take-off. In economy, I always ask about the plane's fullness or loading upon check-in. If the flight isn't full, requesting a seat towards the back of the aircraft and in the central section of a wide-bodied plane (i.e. a Boeing 747, 777, Airbus 300, 340 and 380), may get you an entire row of seats which you can claim as your own and stretch out. Being territorial can have its advantages.
Many people will disagree with this next suggestion and that is, to eat the meals that are provided. Although often totally unsavory to the sophisticated palate, airline food can be edible and will often be designed to be light and nutritious enough not to upset your constitution. Drink a lot of water to keep you hydrated and if possible avoid caffeinated drinks (coffee, soda etc) and excessive alcohol. Walk around the plane if you can, or at least try to do some low-key leg, neck and shoulder exercises to avoid cramping and the dreaded "economy-class syndrome."
Although many airlines still provide them, make sure to bring a sleep mask and earplugs. Sensory deprivation can make all the difference. If you are one of these people who can sleep with music playing, plug in to the airline system or bring your iPod. Portable "white noise" devices and CDs can also block out unwanted aircraft noise and irritation.
Set your watch to the local time at your destination during the flight. That way you can look forward rather than backwards and mentally adjust. This is especially true when you arrive at your destination as acclimatization will be far simpler if you can easily relate to local time. Some time differences seem to defy logic when you consider that if you fly from New Zealand or Australia to California (especially during the northern hemisphere winter), you will arrive several hours before you took off, thereby gaining an entire day. The reverse is true of the return flight where you depart on one day and arrive two calendar days later.
If there is a fuel stop or change of aircraft on the way to your final destination, then you really should take advantage of the hour or so that you may be back on the ground to walk around, eat or even do a spot of shopping at the airport. Some international airports also have shower facilities, swimming pools, gyms and spa services if time permits between connecting flights. I find that it you have two sectors to fly, it is better to stay awake during the shorter sector and then it will be easier to sleep during the longer flight. If the sector is extremely long, for example New York to Singapore (18+ hours) or Los Angeles to Sydney (around 14 hours), split the flight into sections and stick to a schedule, i.e. watch a film, read, eat, and try to set aside at least a five to seven-hour block to sleep that coordinates with the time at your destination. If you really want a long sleep, let the flight attendant and your traveling companion know that you don't want to be woken up for a snack or other meal.
When you arrive at your destination, the worst thing you can do is go to sleep. You may get to your hotel room, take one look at that king size bed with 800-thread count crisp white sheets and the temptation may be too strong, but I urge you to resist. If it is daytime, take a shower and force yourself to go out, walk around or at least stay up until a reasonable hour before turning in. Whatever you do, don't take a quick nap -- this is jetlag suicide. If it is evening or night when you arrive, you should still shower and then go out for a walk and meal. If not practical, at least order room service and read or watch television before going to sleep. Once again, avoid caffeine, despite the fact that you may desperately crave it. Sunshine is considered a natural and effective way to combat the effects of jetlag once you arrive, but I think this may be more psychological that scientifically true as sunlight and warm temperatures tend to make you feel better in all circumstances.
If you are flying to the UK, Asia, Australia or New Zealand, pick up some Berocca's (made by Roche) at a local pharmacy -- a magical product that unavailable in the United States. You can however buy it online (www.store.yahoo.com/a1-healthy/berocca.html or www.inhousepharmacy.com/general/berocca.html) for about three times the overseas price! Although commonly recognized as a hangover cure, its Vitamin B boost seems to stave off practically anything including jetlag. At the very least, it restores energy and re-hydrates you. Melatonin is another product that is thought to have properties that can effectively get your body clock back in sync after long flights. Although I personally wouldn't endorse taking it, you may find that it works for you but its usage should be restricted (keep in mind that it is not legal for sale in most countries outside the US). Another product promising relief is No Jetlag (www.nojetlag.com), which is a homeopathic remedy. One disadvantage of this option is that you have to take multiple tablets throughout the flight, rather than a single dose.
As jetlag affects different people in individual ways, it may take a little trial and error before you find the right combination of activity, sleep, flight schedule and remedy that works for you.
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