Princess Diana used to load up on vitamin C; a colleague takes a herbal form of melatonin; another avoids aeroplanes altogether—all different remedies proposed to combat the fatigue, disorientation, sleep difficulties, impaired concentration, low stamina, anxiety, loss of appetite and constipation that are the possible aftermaths of travelling across time zones.
Jet light: Avoid a very large meal while flying.
A by-product of travelling across time zones, jet lag is a physical condition where the body’s inner clock is not in sync with the time zone you are currently in. The altitude and pressure changes you have to endure also contribute to making your system go topsy turvy. Symptoms include fatigue, headaches, dehydration, irritability and a hard time sleeping or concentrating.
The severity of jet lag depends more on the number of time zones you cross rather than the duration of the flight (see Measure). If you don’t want to waste precious days in Paris (or any other part of the world) dragging your feet, all woozy from jet lag, try these:
• Eat a sandwich or a high-carbohydrate snack, along with a drink containing electrolytes (such as fresh lemonade, coconut water or a sports drink), an hour before flying. Blood pressure and oxygen levels decline at high altitudes, causing discomfort (and increasing your heart attack risk). Eating and drinking before take-off stabilizes blood pressure and increases oxygen levels.
• Stay off spices and booze from the day before you travel. The former can cause havoc with your digestion and the latter may dehydrate you, increasing problems.
• If you suffer from airsickness, take Stugil, Stemetil or Avomine about 45 minutes before the flight. Children can be given Phenergan.
• This one is tough but certainly worth a try: Adjust your eating times. Eat your dinner, lunch and breakfast according to the times of your destination. Though this may seem inconvenient, it will really pay off when you find yourself already habituated to the times away from home.
• Eating food that contains the amino acid L-tryptophan—turkey, paneer (cottage cheese), milk, brown rice, peanuts, soy products—can help you get a great night’s sleep before you depart and keep you calm later too.
On the flight
• Don’t succumb to the temptation of taking sleeping pills. They will only add to the sluggishness of jet lag, because when you remain immobile for hours, your body’s circulation is affected negatively. Instead, get up every half an hour or so for a walk up and down the aisle.
• Eat light. The last thing your body needs is to digest a large meal up in the air.
• Avoid gas-inducing foods, because intestinal gas expands at high altitudes. So avoid beans and legumes, cauliflower and cabbage.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages: They destroy vitamin B-complex in the body which helps fight jet lag.
• The dry air inside the cabin can dehydrate the skin, throat, eyes and nostrils. So pass up the caffeine and fizzy drinks. These diuretics can worsen dehydration. Sip a lot of non-caffeinated beverages instead. Best of all, drink plenty of water (it will also force you to get up and walk to the restroom, which helps circulation and reduces your risk of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT).
• If you feel run down already, increase your vitamin C intake. Sipping on orange juice is an easy way to do this. Vitamin C, being an antioxidant, counters the strain that high altitudes and flying put on the immune system.
• If you prefer hot liquids, bring your own herbal tea bags. Try chamomile or peppermint tea. They are soothing, and calm the nerves (unlike coffee, which is a stimulant, or strong teas, which can make you jittery).
Once you have landed
• If you arrive at your final destination in the morning, try and stay awake all day. Drink small amounts of coffee, tea or caffeinated soda to keep awake (too much caffeine will further disrupt your sleep cycle). Keep napping to a minimum.
• Eat small meals throughout the day while you adjust to the new mealtimes. Keep a snack by your bed if your regular dinner time occurs in the middle of the night in the new time zone.
• In case of constipation, use a mild laxative.
Expert: Dr Nalin Nag, consultant in internal medicine, Apollo Indraprastha Hospital, New Delhi.
British Airways offers a “jet-lag calculator” that applies research into bright-light therapy to advise passengers on when to sit in a pitch-dark room and when to seek bright light after a flight. Click here to give it a try.
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