Jet Lag & Flight Sickness
Jet lag is physical reaction to a rapid change in time zones. It affects most
travelers, including seasoned fliers like flight attendants and pilots. Common
symptoms include disorientation, irritability, fatigue, swollen limbs and eyes,
headaches, cold like symptoms, and irregular bowels.
The direction of travel is a major factor. Heading east will disrupt the body more
than heading west.
Since the biggest single cause of jet lag is crossing time zones, which disrupts
the body's circadian rhythms, the syndrome is most severely felt when associated
with East - West, West - East or Transpolar Flights. The effects are
made worse by variations in atmospheric pressure each time the aircraft takes
off and lands, and also by pre flight stress, tiredness or hangovers. Other
factors that appear to exacerbate jet lag include the dryness of the air supply
aboard passenger aircraft, the temptation to consume alcohol and to eat more
than necessary during flight, and the lack of body movement, especially in the
legs and feet.
Circadian dysrhythmia is thus experienced by about the same proportion of flying
professionals as of passengers. This appears to contradict the often heard claim
that frequent travelers develop an ability to overcome this problem.
Jet lag is typically characterized by a number of well known symptoms easily recognized
by the sufferer. They include:
In addition to the above symptoms of jet lag proper, the syndrome is made worse
by the physical effects of being confined in an airliner for hours:
- Disruption to circadian rhythms caused by crossing time zones, which can result in
broken sleep, with the sufferer waking during the night and then wanting to fall
asleep during the day. The number of days this dysrhythmia lasts has been observed
to be about equal to the number of time zones crossed.
- Fatigue, lasting for days after arrival. This is often accompanied by a lack of
concentration and motivation, especially for any activity that requires effort
or skill, such as driving, concentrated reading or business negotiation.
- Disorientation and vagueness.
Discomfort of legs and feet due to limbs swelling while flying, which in some cases
can prevent travellers wearing their normal shoes for up to 24 hours after arrival.
Dehydration due to the dry atmosphere (low humidity) aboard airliners, which can
cause headaches, dry skin and nasal irritation. This in turn can result in a general
feeling of unwell ness and make the subject more susceptible to colds or other
The World Health Organization also cites jet lag as an aggravating factor in cases
of diarrhoea caused by microbiological contamination of water or food, which it
believes affects between 20% and 50% of all travellers.
"The key is to get it out of your mind. The less you think about it, the better
off you are."
Before You Go
Treat your body well before you fly. Exercise, sleep well, stay hydrated,
and stay sober. The worst thing you can do is get on a long haul flight with a hangover.
Some travelers like to exercise before they go to the airport. Try avoiding the
escalators and moving sidewalks at the airport, and walk to your check-in area,
and to your gate connections.
During the Flight
Perhaps the most effective way to combat jet lag while in flight is to treat your
body well. Avoid alcohol and caffeine just before and during your
flight. Both alcohol and caffeine possess diuretic properties, which means that
they cause you to lose water and they can promote dehydration. Additionally, alcohol
causes drowsiness and can contribute to the sluggish feeling experienced by many
travelers. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids.
Bring your own bottled water so you're not be dependent on flight service.
Get up out of your seat at regular intervals to walk and stretch. You can also do
exercises like toe raises, isometric exercises(simply contract and relax as many muscle
groups as possible while seated), stomach crunches, and shoulder shrugs right in your
Wear loose fitting clothing that breathes. Blindfolds, ear plugs, neck rests and
blow-up pillows are all useful in helping you get quality sleep while flying.
Kick your shoes off to ease pressure on the feet, also avoid any footwear that
is snug on your feet, it is quite possible that your feet will swell in transit,
making your post flight trek to baggage claim a nightmare.
During extended stopovers on a long-haul flight, showers are sometimes available.
A shower not only freshens you up but gets the muscles and circulation going again
and make you feel much better for the rest of the flight.
Treating Jet Lag
If you arrive in the morning plan to stay awake. If possible try to wait until
the local bedtime to sleep. You will sleep better and will be less likely to
suffer insomnia than if you take a nap upon arriving.
Some travelers use sleeping pills, antihistamines and motion sickness pills to
induce sleep on planes, at hotels, in airports, and on layovers. While they
work for some, others are left feeling miserably groggy. Consult your doctor
before taking any medication.