To Your Health
Jettison Jet Lag

by Paulette Avery, R.N., M.S.N.

Since I recently returned from my first trip across the Atlantic, a lovely two-week visit to England with a weekend in Paris, a column on dealing with jet lag seems appropriate. I'm very glad to report that I experienced little or none of it, despite the eight-hour time change from California to England. Here's what you need to know about jet lag and what you can do to avoid it.

Jet lag results from a disruption in our body clock, that is, in our circadian rhythms, the normal patterns of eating, sleeping, and hormonal fluctuations that our bodies go through each day. When we travel rapidly through time zones, our body clocks become "out of sync" with the new pattern of day and night at our destination. Common symptoms of jet lag include fatigue that can last many days, mental disorientation and fuzziness, lack of concentration, disrupted sleep patterns after arrival, and irritability or unreasonable behavior. Long periods on an airplane can also result in dehydration and swollen limbs.

So what can you do to help avoid this unpleasant syndrome? Quite a bit, it seems. Begin by getting a good night's sleep before your travel begins. This is common sense, and though often easier said than done, it will get you off to a good start. During the flight, drink plenty of water. Other fluids, such as fruit juice or small amounts of carbonated drinks, may be drunk as well, but it is best to avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Both of the latter can contribute to dehydration, and alcohol has a stronger intoxicating effect when consumed at the high elevations of jet travel. Take a bottle of water with you on the plane and refill it in the restroom as needed. If you forget to do this, choose water when the flight attendants make their rounds with beverages, and save the bottle or cup.

Keep moving during the flight. The tight spacing of seats these days can make this tricky, but it can be done. While in your seat, keep the blood flowing by shifting positions and occasionally stretching your arms above your head. You can exercise your legs by alternately lifting your toes and heels off the floor. Make frequent trips to the restroom (having an aisle seat makes this a lot easier), or at least find a spot to stand for a few minutes. All of these activities will help to avoid swelling, especially in your ankles and feet.

The other strategy I used, and it definitely seemed to help, was to take a homeopathic product called No Jet Lag. The directions are to chew one tablet at each take-off and then every two hours during your flight, unless you are sleeping. If, unlike me, you are able to sleep, then it is OK to wait four hours before taking a pill. Take one more when you land. They are pleasant tasting. If you want more information on this product, check out their Web site at that includes a study on its effectiveness.

In order to increase your chances for sleeping, consider taking a sleeping mask and earplugs. Take off your shoes and put on a pair of comfortable sox. If you are fortunate enough to fly first class, these items may be provided for you.

Once you arrive, do your best to stay up until a normal bedtime at your destination. In my case, that meant arriving in London at 8 a.m. their time, but midnight to me, and staying up until about 9 p.m. London time. I was awake for about 29 hours straight, and of course very tired, but then I slept well and felt adjusted to London time by the next day. It also seems to help to start eating meals at the normal times for your new time zone.

Have a great trip!

Paulette Avery is a registered nurse and a freelance writer who specializes in health issues.