Flying across multiple time zones in a short period of time causes jet lag for many people. Typical symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, headache, irritability and inability to concentrate. Some travelers also report upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, swollen ankles and aching joints. The problem starts when our normal day-to-night schedule changes suddenly, along with our established patterns of eating, sleeping and other activities. This “confuses” the mechanisms that regulate the rhythms of daily functioning, particularly in relation to the sleep-wake cycle
Adding to the problem are the physical results of prolonged sitting and hours of exposure to dry, recycled air. Jet lag is usually more obvious when flying east and less so when flying west. Traveling to the north or south doesn’t affect the sleep-wake cycle because time zones remain the same, but some symptoms may still occur as a result of the physical and emotional stress of traveling. You can take a number of steps to reduce jet lag:
* Physical conditioning increases stamina and reduces travel-related stress and fatigue. If you currently exercise, continue to do so while traveling. Even if you don’t regularly exercise, it helps to learn a few stretching and relaxation techniques to practice when needed. Walking is a low-cost, enjoyable way to stay fit on the road. There are also many products made specifically for travelers who want to work out, such as inflatable plastic weights that can be filled with water when you reach your destination. On the plane, take regular breaks to stretch, walk around the cabin, and exercise while sitting.
* The air in planes is dry, and it is common to become dehydrated before having any sensation of thirst. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight to lessen problems such as dizziness, fatigue and constipation that can result from dehydration.
* Large meals and excessive caffeine intake may cause problems with sleep and digestion. Eat lightly, and avoid or reduce caffeine.
* Don’t smoke, drink large amounts of alcohol or take unnecessary medication while in flight. The high altitude and dehydration can increase the effects of any drug.
* Keep any naps during travel days to less than 45 minutes. This will reduce the “drugged” feeling that results from deep sleep and allow you to sleep more easily at night.