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Lagging Behind

Someone has rightly said: A jet lag is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photograph. Dr Mukesh Batra advices you on how to beat jet lag

“Getting there is half the fun,” goes a popular cliche. While this may hold true for a lazy driving trip through the English countryside, or a flight to Dubai, it generally does not apply to a 24-hour flight to Florida or New York. It can be tough enough to survive the rigours of an economy class flight. When we finally arrive, it gets worse. It’s four in the morning, and you’re tossing and turning between crisp hotel sheets. Then a few hours later, just as you’re walking into the big meeting - important enough for you to cross six time zones - you’re finally ready to fall asleep, for the next two weeks. We succumb to jet lag. After years of study and continued suffering, jet lag like the common cold is still with us.

Extensive studies have revealed that 93-94 per cent flyers experience jet lag in some form or the other. It’s every traveller’s nightmare. As people fly more and more, jet lag is becoming a kind of an epidemic. Besides exhaustion and insomnia, symptoms of jet lag include swollen limbs, loss of sleep, disorientation, headaches, bowel irregularity and lightheadedness. Apart from these, jet lag can impede your physical as well as mental performance even a few days after you have flown.

Jet lag occurs because as you fly from one part of the world to the other, the changes in time zones confuse the body’s 24-hour inner clock known as circadian rhythms. For example, assume that you live in Mumbai and have flown to Sydney for an important business meeting. Now note that the time difference between Mumbai and Sydney is five and a half hours. So when it is 10:00 am in Sydney and you are preparing for your meeting, your body says that it is only 4:30 am (as per Mumbai time), and you find it difficult to keep awake. Then again, it’s bedtime for the Australians and you are wide awake, while everyone else is sleeping. These situations can be very frustrating especially for someone, who has very little time and much to accomplish from the trip.

Jet lag cannot be averted completely, but you can take preventive steps, during and after the flight to alleviate its effects. Make sure that you have all your affairs in order before you fly. Stress, excitement or even a hangover can make flying a nightmare. These are all allies of jet lag. Prior to your flight get a good night’s sleep because even though you intend to catch up on your sleep on the flight, a talkative co-passenger, or even worse, a cramped seat may thwart your plans. Carry earplugs, a warm shawl or even your pillow; anything that will make you comfortable. Some people carry meditation tapes while on flight to help them relax. All these will help you get the much-needed rest. Keep your body fit and get plenty of exercise in the days before departure. This will help you combat ailments like cold and flu, which are common after a flight.

Besides time zones, dehydration is a significant cause of jet lag. The air inside an aircraft is usually dry and people living in humid conditions often find this change unbearable. The dryness causes headaches, drying up of skin, nasal and throat membranes. This is an ideal situation for catching colds, coughs, sore throats, or the flu. Drink plenty of water before and during the flight. Preferably carry your own water bottle because some airlines carry only limited quantity of water. Avoid beverages like tea and coffee and stay away from alcoholic drinks and even juices. What your body needs is water. Alcohol in your body is more potent when you are flying. One glass of wine in-flight will have the effect of two glasses on ground. Would you really like to have a hangover when you reach a foreign destination?

Besides beverages, meals are served at frequent intervals while flying. Avoid overeating. Your cramped seating will be, as it is, putting pressure on your stomach. An overfilled stomach will only lead to a stomach ache. Avoid eating anything raw or cold like salads, cold meat or fish. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 50 per cent of international travellers develop digestion and stomach problems while on flight, so dietary care is important while flying.

Business and first class travellers experience less jet lag than their economy class counterparts. This is because a lot of airlines, to economise, circulate fresh air only among the premium section of the airplane. Lack of fresh air can make you tired and irritable, and even cause headaches.

Immobility is one of the worst aspects of long-haul flying. Lack of activity and blood circulation causes a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT, as it is popularly known). Sitting in one position in a cramped condition can cause blood clots, which can travel to the heart or the brain causing a heart attack or a stroke, proving fatal. To avert this possibility, stretch your limbs even while you are sitting. Walk up and down the aisle as frequently as possible. Remove your shoes and carry soft, cloth slippers or ask the airline for a pair. Hard shoes will put pressure on your feet causing them to swell or ache.

When you arrive at your destination, adjust to the time as soon as you can. Don’t think about what time it is back home. Resist taking naps and if you must take one, keep it short. Now that you have landed, you can take your regular quota of coffee or tea to help you stay awake till bedtime. Eat high fibre foods to avoid constipation and keep away from fatty foods, which will make you sluggish.

Melatonin is an oft-prescribed medicine for jet lag. But this is a complex treatment, the side effects of which outnumber its benefits. Nox Vomica 200 (five pills taken before and another five after the flight) is a homeopathic medicine, which will help you overcome the effects of jet lag, without any side effects.

Jet lag is one of the joys of travel, right up there with motion sickness and lost baggage. Thankfully, many of its unwanted effects can be minimised with some careful planning and sensible behaviour. So don’t dread it, but instead, try to beat it!

(The author is chairman and managing director, Dr Batra’s Positive Health Clinic, and can be contacted at help@positivehealthclinic.com)