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Coping with Jet Lag

By Larry Benedict

After years of study, and continued suffering, jet lag, like the common cold is still with us. It is so prevalent that many studies are on-going and several books have been written to advise jet passengers on dealing with it. A few things are finally known and most researchers agree on a number of causes and remedies.

We have learned that the human body functions in accordance with a sensitive and complex internal clock that sets up circadian rhythms. Our environment and our habits provide the timing for these rhythms and act in concert, producing our daily physical schedule. Jet travel, however, takes us across time zones, on transmeridian flights, far too swiftly for this body clock to adjust.

We do have a number of answers, some common sense, others are the result of hotels looking for ways to lure customers and accommodate their guests. These are in addition to the numerous medical studies conducted by MIT and other respected facilities world wide.

One interesting finding, resulting from in-flight studies where control groups were given placebos, have indicated that an over-the-counter substance called melatonin works to reduce the effects of jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies secrete into the blood stream when its time to sleep. The release is governed by the absence of light as well as the timing of our meals. (For this reason it is important to take melatonin pills not during flight but at night-fall once you reach your destination). Melatonin is a potent, free-radical scavenger and like other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, it protects against aging. In the laboratory it has been shown to enhance the immune system and retard the growth of certain tumors.

Light suppresses melatonin but at nightfall the body releases it making you sleepy. Melatonin levels start to rise at the onset of night and peak around twelve midnight. From there the levels drop off until morning.

The pills are available over-the-counter and in health food stores but have not yet received official FDA approval. Certain studies showed that males given melatonin were able to sleep within five to six minutes, while men given a placebo took twenty minutes fall asleep or longer.

While the disruption of the body clock is the true meaning of jet lag, many other factors associated with jet travel contribute to the overall problem. Dealing with them will significantly reduce the effects of the condition.

The avoidance of alcohol before and during flights is a recognized way to reduce the consequences of jet lag. According to Diana Fairchild in her widely acclaimed book Jet Smart alcohol is a diuretic which means that it squeezes water from cells, the same way that coffee does. Since dehydration is one of the major problems of airline flight for the passenger, drinking these two substances should be avoided.

Also, alcohol is a depressant and disrupts the clarity of the brain. These facts contribute to the general feeling of jet lag and extend the period required for the body to adjust to the new time zone.

Other factors, besides alcohol and coffee, affect dehydration. The dryness of the airline cabin saps the body of fluids and for those with a fear of flying, anxiety also causes the body to dehydrate. This can be countered by drinking plenty of water during the flight and, as Diana Fairchild writes, a long bath in your hotel room will help return your body moisture level to normal.

Bangkok's new Oriental Hotel offers a full spa treatment to help cure jet lag that includes hydrotherapy, a papaya body polish and a massage, to unknot muscles cramped from hours in an airline seat. Finally, spa cuisine replaces lost body vitamins in gourmet style. Oriental Hotel, Bangkok, 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok Thailand 10500; Phone: 800 526-6566

The Oriental hotel is not the only hotel addressing jet lag in a variety of ways. Numerous hotels offer rooms designed to combat jet lag. These circadian suites are enormously complex involving timed blackout curtains full spectrum artificial lighting to simulate day and room service that provides meals for all times of day that are available round the clock. You can order steak dinner at seven a.m. or a full breakfast at nine p.m. The rooms are not cheap, costing as much as $265 a night but for the executive, who's come half way round the world to close an important deal, it's worth it.

Circadian Travel Technologies has designed rooms for fine hotels including the Tudor in New York, the Grand Hyatt in Taipei and the Rembrandt in London. For discounted airfares visit

Here's a short list of jet lag tips that can work in concert to alleviate many of the symptoms:

  • Do stretching exercises in your seat to avoid cramped muscles.
  • Walk around the cabin during your flight.
  • Yawn or chew gum to avoid pressure build-up in the ears.
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee before and during your flight.
  • Carry drinking water with you and drink an 8 ounce glass each hour.
  • Wear comfortable travel clothes, especially shoes.
  • Be well rested before you leave.
  • Make sure your pre-flight diet contains plenty of starch, carbohydrates and greens.
  • You might check out melatonin. While not officially approved in the US, the British Medical Journal was favorably impressed.
  • Set your watch to the time of your destination before you board.
  • Arrange in-flight meals to reflect the time-of-day at your destination.
  • Eliminate stress and anxiety as much as possible from your journey.

    A last piece of advice which may seem terribly simple but is seldom observed is to plan your post-flight schedule with the understanding that some jet lag will occur. If you can control the timing of a meeting, try to schedule it as close as possible to a time when your body's feeling wide awake.

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