It’s noon in Munich but your body still thinks it’s 3 A.M.
in San Francisco. After a 12-hour flight, your head feels like a top
and your tongue like a chalkboard eraser. You’re suffering from
severe jet lag.
What is jet lag? Simply, it’s the disruption of the
body’s normal rhythms–heart rate, blood pressure, and
respiration–brought on by rapid travel through several time zones. Jet
lag is exacerbated by lack of sleep, fatigue, and muscle stiffness due
to sitting for hours.
Researchers disagree on jet lag’s cause and treatment, and
medical studies are continuing. Sleep-disorder researchers at Stanford
University contend sleep is the most critical factor. They’re
testing a short-acting sleeping pill to help travelers prevent the worst
symptoms by getting enough sleep while flying.
Argonne National Laboratory has developed a program to follow in
fighting jet lag. Designed to readjust the body’s inner clock with
time cues from the environment, it involves a planned rescheduling of
meals and sleep. They report excellent results. For a free,
wallet-size care that condenses the plan, send a stamped, self-addressed
envelope to Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet, OPA, Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 S.
Cass Ave., Argonne, Ill. 60439.
You can’t completely avoid tiredness and jet lag when you
travel long distances by air, but you can minimize their effects. Here
are some steps you can take.
Before you fly. Travel rested. Dress comfortably. High heels,
tight clothes, and neckties can make long hours in a plane unbearable.
Eliminate the last-minute rush to the airport; many airlines have
advance seating for international flights. Seats directly behind a
bulkhead let you prop up your feet. Aisle seats allow you to get in and
out easily, but may be harder to sleep in. If you have layovers, try to
plan them overnight so you can sleep in a bed.
In the air. Make yourself comfortable. Stretch out, take off your
shoes; bring along a pair of slippers or thick socks to wear. Ear plugs
and an eye mask can help you fall asleep. Don’t be shy about
asking for a pillow or blanket.
Dry, pressurized air will cause you to dehydrate, so drink plenty
of liquids. However, alcohol not only accelerates dehydration, but high
altitude intensifies its other physiological effects. Bring along some
moisturizing lotion for face and hands to prevent chapping.
Try not to overeat. Vegetarian, Kosher, and other special meals
can be ordered ahead of time; call your airline for specific
Walk around and stretch when you can. This will increase
circulation and help prevent swelling in feet and ankles. You can also
do a number of simple stretches in your seat to keep from getting stiff.
Western, Eastern, and World Airways have new in-flight audio
exercise programs. Ask your flight attendant for more details.
For more information. The Capitol Hill Hospital Sports Medicine Program and the Washington Healthcare Corporation have produced a
30-minute audio tape designed to help passengers fight jet lag. The
program combines 15 minutes of isometric exercises you can do in your
seat with 15 minutes of relaxation exercises. For a cassette version of
the program, send $6.95 to Washington Healthcare Corp., 100 Irving St.
N.W., E. Building, Room 8102, Washington, D.C. 20010.