Beating jet lag

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Jet lag - it's every expat's dilemma. We explain how to stay on top of the world at 30,000 feet.

Crossing the world at hundreds of miles an hour comes at a price — and it comes on top of what you pay for your ticket. Whether you are jetting off long-haul for a three-day business trip or two weeks of sun-searching, your circadian rhythms are going to get messy. These are the body's physiological cycles, the so-called 'body clock' within us all that keeps us in tune with the world outside and regulate aspects such as hormones, mood and digestion with our world on the inside. Jet lag occurs when these functions are disrupted by travel and changing time zones, while the body clock tries to play catch-up.

  Loss of sleep also compounds the problem. American Express has discovered that business people often get an average of six hours sleep instead of the required eight when flying. This leads to sleep debt, which in turn causes a 50 percent drop in judgement and a bleary-eyed 75 percent reduction in attention. Not particularly welcome in boardrooms across the world, unless you are heading to an international slumber party. We look at three ways that you can minimise the side effects of the aeronautical hangover. Melatonin This controversial chemical is produced by the pea-sized pineal gland in the brain when we are in darkness — the gland is our timekeeper. Melatonin can be bought in synthetic or 'natural form'; the latter comes from animal brains. There is speculation that the animal grade melatonin could contain unwanted proteins or viruses that cause an antibody response.

The tail wind of jet lag eventually catches up with most expats.
While it is supposed to promote regular sleep and less jet lag, as well as increase sexual activity and reduce aging, not much is yet known about possible long-term side-effects. In one test, 10 percent of the subjects reported that it did nothing and a further 10 per cent suffered from side effects such as headaches and grogginess. 
Certain people should not take melatonin, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, and healthy children and teenagers, who secrete enough of the chemical naturally. Nobody is quite sure how wise it is to take it, although it is very low in toxicity and there have been virtually no reported serious reactions. Some reports suggest that if not taken at the correct time, it can actually make jet lag worse. Homeopathic jet lag tablets A more natural alternative to melatonin are tablets such as No-Jet-Lag. This is homeopathic and uses small doses derived from plants and roots such as Chamomilla, from German chamomile, and Bellis Perennis, extracted from daisies. Remedies such as these carry a minimal risk of side effects. In a trial involving travellers and flight attendants, this particular brand was proved to help counter jet lag. Airfare is a liquid solution derived from plant essences, and is similarly 100 percent natural. Arnica, otherwise known as Wolf's Bane, is recommended by some people and is better known for the treatment of trauma and shock (perhaps useful if it is going to be a particularly bad flight). Au naturel There are several methods which don't involve popping pills. Don't depart with a hangover and get a good night's sleep the night before leaving. Drink plenty of water in the dry cabin atmosphere and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Use blindfolds, earplugs, inflatable pillows, a blanket, a walkman — anything to promote sleep. Exercise is important to stop limbs from swelling, so walk the aisles, stand and stretch whenever possible. If available on a long-haul stopover, jump into a shower. It will perk you up no end and get the circulation going again.
Some remedies work for some, but not others 
Some people believe that altering your diet, either by fasting or timing the consumption of carbohydrates and proteins, can be beneficial, but recent research shows that this does have a positive effect on jet lag. Setting your watch to your destination's time and sleeping or staying awake according to that time, not your body clock, is widely endorsed. Money can be invested or blown on the Jet Lag Eliminator, two discs that you rotate which tell you what bits of your body to massage when, while you hurtle towards your destination. It is based on Chinese acupuncture and the body's energy centres, but you might raise eyebrows as you massage your ears, both inside and out, as the plane begins its descent. A large amount of weight lies behind the theory of dosing yourself with light — either with light machines or the real thing when you arrive — to help reset the natural clock quickly, but you must time it right for it to work, making this a difficult method to practice. At the end of the travelling day, circadian rhythms are very individual things, so try them all and stick to what's best for you. Happy landings! [Copyright Expatica] Subject: Travel

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