Jet lag is a profound fatigue experienced by travelers who fly across multiple time zones – the farther you jet, the worse the lag. Sometimes, however, a quick trip to the East Coast can be just as disabling as a long flight to China.
Following is a list of key causes of jet lag, tips for preventing the debilitating condition and remedies for treating it.
Key causes of jet lag
• Time-zone changes. Your body has a natural clock – circadian rhythm. This tightly controlled rhythm is managed by the brain, which uses light exposure to regulate hormone secretion of melatonin (which makes you sleep) and cortisol (which wakes you up). When you travel across multiple time zones, it may take a while for your body to catch up or slow down to the new time zone.
• Environmental factors. From stale, recycled air to airborne pathogens, the airplane environment can be stressful and uncomfortable. Some experts suggest that extremely dry air on board can inhibit the mucous membrane system in the sinuses from fending off pathogens. In addition, exposure to very low levels of radiation may contribute to free-radical damage as well as mental and physical fatigue. Travel can be tense and aggravating, which further stresses the immune system. All in all, not a pretty picture.
• Sleep deprivation. Many travelers sleep poorly before a flight due to anxiety, and others must wake at odd hours to reach the terminal on time. Unless you’re flying business or first class, sleeping on board may be difficult. Sleep deprivation, combined with the above stressors when flying, may make it harder to function at your destination.
Tips for combating jet lag
• Prepare early. All-night packing can make anyone stressed and anxious – and that can easily carry over into your flight. Pack early, double check your itinerary, convert currency and coordinate transportation to and from the airport well in advance of your flight.
• Pamper yourself. Cramped quarters, loud noises, turbulence and low-quality food can take their toll. A small dose of your favorite comforts – soft slippers, a small pillow, your favorite music, noise-canceling headphones and healthful snacks – can give you an edge over jet lag.
• Stay hydrated. Airplanes circulate extremely dry air throughout the cabin, causing the body to lose moisture. Dehydration can also lead to headaches and dizziness. Avoid dehydrating drinks such as alcohol and caffeinated sodas.
• Plan for a time-zone change. A few days prior to your trip, gradually augment your schedule to help your body prepare for the new time zone. Start with 30- to 60-minute increments toward your destination time zone and increase it each day; when you touch down, your body will naturally fall into the rhythm of the time zone. British Airways even has a handy Jet Lag Calculator on its website.
• Get the blood pumping. The longer you sit, the more lethargic you’ll feel – it’s that simple. Take regular breaks by walking up and down the aisles and perform stretching exercises to promote active circulation, which should make you feel looser and more energetic. Going for a run at your destination can also provide some much-needed stimulation to your muscles.
• Expose yourself to light. Light exposure sets your body clock, so you’ll want to expose yourself to daylight as soon as you arrive at your destination. If you wake in the middle of the night, you’ll want to keep the room as dark as possible.
Full disclosure: I own a company called FlyRight, which manufactures a jet-lag remedy, Jet Lag Formula, which employs a combination of herbs to offset the key causes of jet lag.
I am a fan of this product, of course, but I want to discuss other products available in the marketplace. Each product claims either to prevent or minimize jet-lag symptoms. Sample these products to determine which works best for you.
• No-Jet-Lag is a homeopathic remedy from New Zealand. On the market for more than 20 years, it uses a combination of homeopathic ingredients to minimize symptoms.
• Jet Zone, created by the former distributor of No-Jet-Lag, contains essentially identical ingredients.
There are also a number of apps, light-therapy devices and jet-lag calculators on the market. In the end, you’ll have to develop a strategy that works for you.
Ted Ray is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in Mountain View. For more information, call 564-9002 or visit www.peninsulaacupuncture.com.