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The Travel Column 2002-7-25

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"

Jet Lag Explained

No, it’s not just a figment of your imagination. Anyone who travels regularly or over long distances knows that jet lag is a real physical phenomenon that affects you any time you cross more than two or three time zones. In the days of only trains and ships, jet lag wasn’t a problem; travelling never happened too fast, and our bodies could easily adjust to the changes in time zones. It’s the modern jet age that has introduced the problem of jet lag to all long distance travelers.

According to Travel Expert, David M. Romwell, “Jet lag is very real and can have a major (negative) impact on your business judgment or vacation enjoyment, as well as making the 'back home blues' even worse upon your return.” Our bodies have an internal ‘clock’ that determines when we want to sleep and when we want to be awake – this internal clock takes time to reset itself if you’ve physically moved into a new time zone. As such, you can fly north or south as far as you wish, and while you’ll probably be exhausted from travelling, a simple good night’s sleep will quickly solve this. You haven’t changed time zones, and so your body is still operating on the same schedule. But as soon as you cross two or more time zones, you will certainly experience jet lag. It takes the body approximately one day to change its internal clock by one hour – not a problem when travelling by land or sea, but with the modern jet plane, all of a sudden you can change a dozen time zones in as many hours.

Here’s a excellent description … “I have jet lag. That's when you arrive and your luggage is in better shape than you are.” - Gene Perret

The Impacts of Jet Lag

After crossing a number of time zones, and you’re suffering from jet lag, your reflexes will be slower – both mentally and physically. For this reason, it is a good idea not to drive a car for a day or two after traveling if at all possible - especially if you're going to be driving on the other side of the road as well! Business travelers - you should avoid any high-pressure negotiations until you have acclimatized to the new time zone. Try to schedule important meetings at a time that is a sensible hour for your home time zone as well as within the business day in the destination time zone. In other words, don't go to a meeting the first day after arriving, at what is the equivalent of 3:00 am back home! There is much debate about whether it is better to fly eastward or westward, and this may be largely a matter of personal preference. There is some evidence that flying westwards causes less jet lag than flying eastwards. Similarly, most travelers think daytime flights cause less jet lag than flying at night.

Minimizing the Effects:

Travel Rested. One of the most important antidotes to jetlag is to begin your travels well-rested, so that you have a supply of energy to draw upon - get a good night's sleep just prior to departure. Ensure you are not stressed-out with excitement or worry, and not tired or hung-over from a function the night before. If you have a cold, flying will probably make it worse - ideally you should delay the trip.

Time Your Arrival. Try to have your travel agent schedule flights so that you arrive mid/late afternoon, to wherever in the world you’re flying. This allows for a convenient amount of time to get to the hotel, and then a good night’s sleep to follow. Whenever possible, avoid flights which bring you to your destination in the early morning, in a different time zone. The worst thing to do upon arriving somewhere, early in the day, is to give in and have ‘a short nap’. Not only does the nap usually become a long sleep, you make it more difficult for your body to adjust to the new time zone – your strategy should be to start living the new time zone as soon as possible.

Drink Lots of Water. Yes, Water! On any flight, drink a large cup of water every hour. The dry atmosphere on an airplane causes accelerated dehydration, and jet lag is the body's stress response to drying out on the plane. So be sure to drink as much water as you can. David Romwell suggests another advantage of this … “Drinking lots of water will cause you to go to the bathroom more regularly, and the forced exercise may reduce your risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis at the same time!”

Time Your Medications. If you’re taking some type of prescription medicines (such as oral contraceptives or perhaps insulin) be sure to keep the time interval between doses reasonably constant, even if the actual time on your watch is different. In the new time zone, change the time you take the medication by one or two hours a day until you’re back to the ‘normal’ time.

What to Avoid. Alcohol, Caffeine and Sleeping Pills may actually slow down the body’s time-zone adjusting process and should be avoided, both before and during your flights.

“Jet Lag is like getting off a not-so-merry-go-round only to discover you're not even at an amusement park!” - Diana Fairechild

Melanie Waddell, Director
July 25, 2002


Previous Travel Columns

bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-11
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-6-27

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