Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Health Care and Jet Lag

If you have spent any time on air travel, especially going to another time zone, you likely are familiar with "jet lag.". That simple little awareness in your daily cycle that something is slightly off when it comes to your internal clock. Jet lag is common, and anyone who flies can swear to its ability to wreak havoc on your mental and physical states. According to MedicineNet, jet lag, also called desynchronosis, is a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms as a result of air travel across time zones. Besides fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, sweating, coordination problems, and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness. The cause of jet lag is the inability of the body of a traveler to immediately adjust to the time in a different zone. Thus, when a New Yorker arrives in Paris at midnight Paris time, his or her body continues to operate on New York time. As the body struggles to cope with the new schedule, temporary insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and an impaired ability to concentrate may set in. The changed bathroom schedule may cause constipation or diarrhea, and the brain may become confused and disoriented as it attempts to juggle schedules.

These are the classic symptoms, according to NoJetLag.com:

1.) Fatigue and disorientation--Becoming tired and disoriented for days after arriving. Lack of concentration and motivation, especially for any activity that requires some effort or skill, like driving, reading, or discussing a business deal. But even simple activities can become harder. And your ability to really enjoy that vacation is significantly reduced.

2.) Interrupted sleep--Crossing time zones can cause you to wake up during the night or make it difficult to get to sleep. You then end up trying to get to sleep during the day. Your built-in circadian rhythms have been disturbed. And it can take many days to readjust to the new time zone. In fact, NASA estimates that you'll need one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to your normal rhythm and energy levels. So a five hour time difference means that you'll need five days to get back to normal. Can you afford that?

3.) Confusion and fuzziness--Having to go back to check two or three times to see if your hotel room was left locked or unlocked. That is typical of the effects reported by flight crews suffering from jet lag. And that is not good if you're on a business trip.

4.) Getting uptight--"Losing it" is another symptom reported by flight crews. And that helps explain why long distance flights can get very tedious toward the end. What's more, going through customs and immigration, then getting to your hotel can seem like a real challenge. In addition to the above symptoms of jet lag, the syndrome is made even worse by some common physical problems caused by being cooped up in an airliner for hours.

5.) Dehydration--That dry air aboard your aircraft can give you headaches, irritate your nostrils and dry your skin. In addition, you'll be more susceptible to any colds, coughs, sore throats and flu that may be floating around the aircraft.

6.) Uncomfortable legs and feet--Swollen limbs can be extremely uncomfortable. In some cases, it could actually prevent you from wearing your normal shoes for up to 24 hours after you land.

7.) Overall health problems--A report from the World Health Organization directly links jet lag to problems like diarrhea caused by microbes contaminating your water or food, affecting about 50% of long distance travelers. "Factors like travel fatigue, jet lag, a change in your diet, a different climate, and lowered immunity may aggravate the problem by lowering the traveler's resistance. And making passengers more susceptible to infection, or even poisoning," the World Health report points out.

If you live by a regular schedule (up at 7 a.m., in bed by 10 p.m. every night), watch out. Jet lag hits those with rigid body clocks the hardest. For parents, be sure to bring along books and toys your child can play with on his or her own, as kids are nearly immune to jet lag, according to IndependentTraveler.com. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind before any long trip is the 1:1 ratio: allow yourself one day to recover for every hour time difference you experience. So for Californians visiting the Big Apple, give yourself at least three days to fully adjust to the new time zone.

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. (This can actually help you sleep better on the plane.) Once you're at the airport, avoid the escalators and moving sidewalks. Instead, walk and take the stairs on the way to your check-in area and gate connections. Adjust your habits before you leave. If you are traveling from the East to the West Coast, you're facing a three-hour time change and you should try to adjust your internal clock. Three or four days before you leave, start to stay up a little later than usual, and sleep in a little longer. That way, if you become accustomed to falling asleep at 1 a.m. and waking up at 9 a.m. on the East Coast, it will be the same as falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. on the West Coast. Traveling west to east, do the opposite: get up and go to bed earlier. Wearing two watches, one set to the current time, and one to the time at your destination, can help you prepare yourself mentally for the coming time change. Many business travelers also use this tactic to stay in touch with what's happening back at the office, according to the Independent Traveler.

Another option-a controversial one-is synthetic melatonin, which is classified in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, according to MedicineNet.com. For the purpose of treating jet lag, it is suggested that a dose between 0.3 mg and 5 mg of melatonin be taken on the first day you travel at the time you will want to go to sleep at your destination. This should be continued at bedtime for a few days once you are at your destination. Be aware that higher doses of melatonin can cause sleepiness, lethargy, confusion, and decreased mental sharpness. Operating motor vehicles or heavy machinery should be avoided after taking your daily dose of melatonin. Nevertheless, if you'd like to try melatonin tablets, check first with your health-care provider. Lots of follow up info can be found at this site: http://www.medicinenet.com/jet_lag/article.htm .

Perhaps the most effective way to combat jet lag while in flight is to treat your body well. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids. Don't be afraid to ask your flight attendant for extra water, according to Independent Traveler. Get up out of your seat at regular intervals to walk and stretch. You can also do exercises like toe raises, isometric exercises, stomach crunches and shoulder shrugs right in your seat. This keeps your blood flowing and prevents it from pooling at your extremities, a common phenomenon in pressurized cabins. Other tips: Get up to wash your face, brush your teeth or just stand up for several minutes. Wear loose-fitting clothing that breathes. Bring a neck pillow, blindfold or ear plugs -- these are invaluable on red-eye flights. Also, avoid any snug footwear (high heels or wingtips); it is quite possible that your feet will swell in transit, making your post-flight trek to baggage claim a nightmare. Even more tips can be found at: http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=67&category=5.

Jet lag—it’s real, and it’s about time you get serious about it. And by get serious, you can download an app...Which brings you to JetLag Genie, an iPhone app devoted to conquering jet lag once and for all, available now, according to UrbanDaddy.com. Think of this as your own personal sleep coach, gently nudging (and/or angrily poking) you onto Milan time before you even start packing. You’ll start by entering your flight info along with your usual sleep schedule (the Italians can accommodate your midnight grappa habit). Then, three days before your flight, your phone will wake you up a little earlier than usual, and that afternoon, you might get an ominous message instructing you to “seek dark.” (It’s probably not referring to ancient evil.) By the time you get on the plane, your internal clock will already be halfway to Milan. And for the next five days, the app will guide you through late-afternoon naps, mysterious melatonin supplements and seemingly insurmountable wake-up calls. And if you find yourself shifting gears to a sudden, kitesurfing-related business trip to Fiji... you can begin the whole process again. But bring coffee, just in case.

All in all, jet lag can be a challenge, especially if you are a frequent flyer. However, using some methods to work through the issue can help overcome many of the symptoms. Flying can be stressful. Do your best to manage jet lag so you don't add to your stress.

Until next time.

1 comment:

Samual said...

Thanks for sharing such useful Blog. One of the worst parts of air travel is dealing with jet lag. Most people attempt to avoid it like the plague, with little success.

Jet lag symptoms