Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Jettison Jet Lag

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

A not-so-funny thing happens sometime when you fly across several time zones. You can arrive feeling disoriented, irritable, a bit addled, and with a headache and swollen feet. It’s commonly called jet lag. But what, exactly, is jet lag?

To begin with, it occurs throughout your body. Science has made it public that various body organs and processes function according to individual biological clocks that operate on different schedules. Thomas Wehr, chief of the biological rhythms section at the National Institute of Mental Health, offers the following explanation. From New York to London, you fly through five time zones.

When you step off the aircraft in the British capital, “your brain is pretty much there, but your liver is out over Iceland.” From the point of view of your other body clocks, “All your organs are kind of spread out across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Getting all those mechanisms back into the pattern they’re used to back home can take time. Some observers say you should allow one day for each hour of time change. There are a number of things you can do to prevent or minimize the out-of-synch symptoms. Tactics range from the somewhat exotic use of scented oils (aroma therapy) that said to use our sense of smell to enhance mood to changes in diet and a bit of exercise.

On the day before departure, cut back on fatty and high-protein foods in favor of carbohydrates and vegetarian dishes, which help you relax. Try to get in some exercise, such as a brisk walk or a swim. Do that again when you arrive. Even more important is the exercise you do en route.

To get blood and oxygen circulating through your muscles and organs, walk up and down the aircraft’s aisle. On a wide-body plane, make one or two circuits of the cabin. While seated, do some simple stretches that won’t have you bumping the passengers around you. These can range from putting your hands behind your neck and pushing your elbows up in front of you to wiggling your toes and rotating your feet. Wear loose-fitting clothing and, to avoid swollen feet, doff your shoes for the flight.

Pressurized cabins in jetliners are extremely dry, so you’ll need to keep your body hydrated by drinking lots of water, fruit juices or sodas. Go easy on the alcohol, which dries out your system, and coffee, which acts as a stimulant. Keep a bit of Vaseline or lip balm handy to ease lip and nostril dryness.

Try to get in some naps, but avoid going to sleep sitting bolt upright in your seat — a position that, if unchanged for some time, can let blood pool in your lower legs and bring on dangerous blood clots. A better way to get some rest is to turn sideways and, if possible, try to scrunch down so your head is almost low enough to reach the arm rest, with one of the airline pillows or a piece of clothing rolled up as a pillow. If you have stowed carry-ons under the seat, drag them out to use as a foot rest. Again, don’t invade the space of the people around you. Your objective should be to put your body into a position that approaches horizontal.

Wrap an airline blanket around you for warmth, slip on an eye mask and, if needed, use ear plugs. With luck, the drone of the aircraft engines will carry you to off dreamland. Some long-distance travelers swear by over-the-counter sleeping potions, especially for red-eye flights, but some doctors warn that when you’re crossing multiple time zones such medications can delay the adjustment process.

Scientists now recognize that daylight can help reset your body’s clocks, including letting your brain know that it’s time be “with it.” If you’re traveling eastward, try to get exposure to the sun in the early morning after landing to help your body advance its clocks to the new time. Westbound, look for that dose of brightness late in the day.

Copyright 2002


Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm

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