Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to beat Jetlag

How to beat Jetlag

By Gillian McLaren

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Jet lag is inevitable when you find yourself flying across time zones, and its knock-on effect can tarnish the first few days of your holiday, which is why frequent travellers are always seeking remedies for this traveller's curse. 

One of the most radical methods for minimising the symptoms of jet lag is to 'reset' your biological clock by starting to live in your destination’s time zone before you even leave home. If you are flying eastwards, this entails going to bed earlier and earlier each night, until you are sleeping during your daytime. This is only for the most dedicated of travellers and I certainly have not tried it yet. 

Friends from the USA, who visit South Africa each year to perform surgery at Baragwanath Hospital, say it works perfectly and that they hit the operating room fully energised, with no trace of jet lag. This onerous method is worth it for them, as they have a short stay on a tight schedule and can’t afford to waste time recovering from the journey. 

In addition to banking sleep before you fly, ensuring you sleep well on the plane can help to buffer the exhaustion caused by jet lag. How, then, to maximise the chances of getting some sleep on an often crowded aeroplane? Popular techniques include: 
1. Flying in comfort at the front of the plane is always a help, but if you haven’t booked business class you can try to secure yourself an upgrade. Dress smartly, be friendly but professional with the check-in staff, and don't be shy to ask politely if business class is very full. If you have a loyalty card for the airline you are more likely to be given special treatment. 

2. A well-located seat may help you to sleep. With many airlines having pre-flight online seating options, opt for a place away from the noisy galley, far from the busy toilets and as close to the cooler front of the plane as possible. Although many passengers automatically select a window seat, I find that having an aisle spot enables me to get up and move around without disturbing others. 

3. As you board, set your watch to the time at your destination and start to time your activities as though you were already there. 

4. Request (at the time of booking) a special meal, like Asian Vegetarian, to have something light and healthy. The other advantage is that you will be served first. While others are still waiting for the trolley to arrive I can hand my tray to the hostess, put on my cotton blindfold, pop in my earplugs, settle onto my inflatable neck cushion and think pleasant thoughts until a herbal sleeping pill lulls me into a guaranteed four-hour-minimum sleep. Avoid prescription sleeping tablets, as they may induce a comatose sleep and when you move so little for long periods you could be vulnerable to deep vein thrombosis. 

5. Avoid all alcohol, coffee and tea and drink copious amounts of water before and during each flight. At every opportunity, I get up out of my seat and stroll around the plane, doing exercises where I find some space. In my seat, I do the exercises suggested in the in-flight magazines, which include rotating your feet, moving your legs and twisting your torso. Remember to kick off your shoes and to pop on a pair of cotton socks, so that your feet are comfortable and warm, but airy. 

6. Melatonin tablets (opt for synthetic or plant melatonin) are excellent for inducing sleep, and while there is debate as to whether or not they do serve any purpose, I find they work well for me.

On the other hand, my husband says life is too short to miss the opportunity to taste a good wine or miss a new movie on the plane. He genially tolerates my jet lag strategies, but defies them all, eschewing melatonin and sleeping pills (homeopathic or otherwise). He eats the red meat, savours the caffeinated coffee and happily flicks through channels on the TV screen. At our destination he concedes that I do seem to have fewer jet lag symptoms, but in his inimitable, phlegmatic way he just smiles and tells me how much he enjoyed the flight. And that is a strategy all of its own.

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Gillian Mclaren Travel and Science Writer