Jet Lag. Even the Sound of it Wears Me Out.
I was talking with a friend yesterday about jet lag. He was telling me about a long trip he took to Asia and how it took him almost 3 weeks to get over his jet lag. Considering the length of his flight from Beijing to Miami (18 hours), plus the time difference (8 hours), as well as the dehydration of traveling, it’s no wonder that my friend was out of it for three entire weeks. Let’s face it, no one can travel like that without experiencing significant jet lag (and new wrinkles around the eyes.)
When I recently traveled across the US from LA to Miami on the red-eye, I felt like (and looked like) I’d fallen down a few flights of stairs, and frankly, so did my teenage daughter. She actually felt a bit queasy during the flight and had a nasty headache. Naturally, I packed the Tylenol in the checked luggage and did not have any in my carry on. I find that particularly interesting, since I had just about everything else in my heavy carry on bags. Plus there’s the fact that I’m a travel writer, who writes articles about packing and everything else travel related. Yet I failed to pack what I tell others to pack. Luckily I learned that flight attendants usually have pain relievers in their stash. I also know that both children and adults feel the negative affects of jet lag. Here are a few thoughts:
1. Hydration – We’ve all heard repeatedly that flying is dehydrating. I, for one, do not need any scientific data on this, since I can conduct my own analysis from personal experience. I realize that I do not drink enough water when flying, because I dread asking the person next to me (and often waking him or her up) to get up and let me out of the row to use the facilities; I feel that it is rude. But since I never want to feel as bad as I did the last time I traveled across the US, I will not worry about burdening the passenger next to me so much in the future. This brings me to another question. Why don’t I just book an aisle seat next time? Oh yes. I don’t book an aisle seat because then I will repeatedly be asked to get up to let someone else out who needs to use the facilities. So the bottom line is that everyone needs to drink extra water while flying. That means kids and adults alike. No - sugary soft drinks, coffee and alcohol do not hydrate. Water is best. So what have I learned? The entire day before any future flight I take, I will drink extra water and eat lots of fruits and veggies (as these are mostly water).
2. Sleeping – Am I the only person on the planet who has never fallen asleep on a plane or in a car? I have flown overseas several times and have been the only passenger awake on the entire flight. If a flight is leaving when you would normally be sleeping at your destination, then do try to sleep. Only do not ask me for tips on how to get to sleep on a plane, because I just informed you that I cannot figure this one out myself. I once tried the eye mask and ear plugs offered to me by the flight attendant. The mask was so tight I still had the markings in the shape of a Mardi Gras mask on my face the next day. And the earplugs were quite painful, plus they did not mask the sound of this unruly young boy in front of me, who fought with his sister (both verbally and physically) and had a barking cough that I wish I could forget but cannot.
Very young children seem to be most affected by jet lag, when they miss their routine napping schedules. So all I can say about that to parents is, try your best to encourage your children to nap on the plane if that is when they’d be napping at home. I’d suggest bringing their own pillow and blanket and, of course, their favorite stuffed animal.
3. Food – Eating junk the day of traveling is a very bad idea. No, let me be clearer. It is a terrible idea. There are consequences for eating empty calories, fatty foods and sugar at any time, but they seem worse when flying. I find I feel better if I eat light meals before a long trip. There’s no point in starting out a flight feeling blah, especially when it could have been prevented. And just because the flight attendants stroll the aisles with bags of chips and cookies, does not mean you have to eat them. If it is in the middle of the night, when you would normally be sleeping instead of eating, then it is okay to not eat. If you are the snacking type, plan ahead and bring an apple or some sort of nuts on board. And don’t feed your kids a bunch of candy and caffeine, and then expect to have a pleasant traveling experience. Those around you will not appreciate it either. You know by the “if looks could kill” looks you get.
4. Circulation – I have to laugh, because I stand a full 4 feet, 11 inches tall, and the truth is that my feet do not reach the floor while I am sitting on the seat. I’ve read that shorter people are more likely to have a heart attack on planes because of this reason – poor circulation. That’s why I am miserable on long flights as my feet dangle. I’m embarrassed to admit that I am actually most comfortable sitting Indian style on the seat. But this is not possible if I’m sitting next to strangers. Here’s where being short comes in handy, because I can actually stand up straight to stretch, and my head does not touch the overhead compartment. Standing up and moving around a bit is essential to your well-being on a long flight. Since you probably are not as short as I am (and therefore cannot stand up under the overhead bin), take a walk down the aisle occasionally to stretch out. And here’s another tip. Get some aerobic exercise before you get on the plane, or at least the evening before. Just make sure you hydrate well in advance of the flight.
So the bottom line is to plan ahead before a long flight. Get some rest, hydrate, eat right, exercise and bring some healthy snacks on board. Pray you are not seated next to someone loud or behaving badly.
And if you know the secret to sleeping on airplanes, do drop me a line.
Debbie Glade is the Geography Awareness Editor for Wandering Educators