Getting over the flight from Hell
"Airplane travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo."— Al Gore, 45th Vice-President of the United States
Each and every one of us has been there and it's no fun at all. You've just completed a long haul flight, you're tired, aching all over, your head is pounding, your mouth is dry, and all you want to do is go to bed. But, worse still, when you do finally get to your room for some shut-eye, you find yourself waking up at 3.00am, unable to sleep. Welcome to the world of jet-lag. But does it really always have to be that way? Is there no way to avoid the nightmare? Well, no it doesn't have to be that way, and yes, there are ways around it!
What is jet-lag?
To try and avoid jet-lag, it's first important to know exactly what it is. In the world of medicine it's called desynchronosis. But, most people don't care what its name is. They just want it gone. Right now. The human body is like a finely tuned machine, and while some bodies are more finely tuned than others, we all work on the same, basic principle. That is to say we get up at this hour, have lunch at that hour, and hit the sack at whatever time we usually turn in. But, it's when that routine is significantly disrupted that the problems begin.
More often than not, the dreaded jet-lag kicks in after a lengthy flight, and usually one of a transatlantic nature. As an example, let's say you're flying tomorrow from Heathrow to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in the heart of Texas. Your plane takes to the air at 6am and you've got a 12-hour flight in front of you. So, you arrive, wiped out, at 6pm and figure it's not too early to go to bed, right? Wrong. Dallas is 6-hours behind the UK, so you have actually arrived at midday.
You have been sitting in a cramped, tiny seat for the entire journey, the food was lousy and you got no sleep at all. You have two choices available. You can risk your body-clock being totally thrown out of sync by going to bed in the early afternoon. Or you can force yourself to stay awake until evening comes around and then try and get some sleep, but, by which time, you're so frazzled you can't sleep anyway. Either way, it's a total lose-lose situation. You are now officially, and unfortunately, a victim of jet-lag.
Cure and prevention
If you have ever had a severe dose of jet-lag, there's one thing you know for sure: You definitely don't want it again. Ever. Curing it by finally managing to get some rest is one thing, but how about finding a way to avoid it in the first place? Impossible? Maybe not. It just means following a few careful guidelines and perhaps even a bit of trial and error.
With a 12-hour flight ahead of you, your first thought might be that with nothing worth watching on the on-board TV, a mother and a crying baby on one side of you and a fidgeting little kid on the other, the best approach is to knock back a hefty amount of booze and quickly pass out. Very bad move.
One of the biggest side-effects of messing around with your body-clock is dehydration. A few shots of whisky just might work in the short-term, but by the end of the flight you will have done far more damage than good. And your wallet won't thank you, either.
What you should drink is water and plenty of it. Yes, we know: kind of boring when you're zipping off for a holiday in the sun. But staying hydrated is an absolute key to helping keep jet-lag at bay.
Food is a tricky issue. Some swear by fasting - maybe even for the entire flight - while others suggest a good, hearty meal relaxes both mind and body and places the traveller in a better position to cope with the hours ahead and before the bed beckons. Moderation, therefore, may be the key.
What to wear and when to walk
Food and drink - and how much or how little of them - are not the only things that you need to pay attention to if you're intent on avoiding feeling, and looking, like a flesh-eating zombie after a night on the town.
While you may have packed some fancy clothes for that week away, you're not going to win any fashion awards on a packed plane full of sweaty, crammed-in people. So, with that in mind, your clothing should be loose, comfortable and baggy. Don't wear anything that restricts you. Your body needs to be as relaxed as possible.
If you can do it, alternating between cat-naps and taking a stroll or several down the aisle and back is recommended, too. The former - providing they aren't too long - will help your body-clock adjust. And the latter actually aids in stimulating the body to the point where it can help lessen growing fatigue and aching muscles.
Tips and warnings
- 1. Stay off the booze. 2. Drink plenty of water. 3. Take a stroll or several on the plane. 4. Don't go to bed too early after arriving at your final destination.
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