Jet Repulsion

The term “jet lag” doesn't really do the ailment justice, does it? “Jet coma” or “jet torpor” might be more accurate.

And while we're on the subject of air travel, can we dispense - once and for all - with the old adage “getting there is half the fun?” If it's really half the fun, maybe we should consider staying home. But aside from being generously misnamed, what is jet lag exactly? And more importantly, how can we skirt its evil clutches?

Jet lag occurs when our internal body clock doesn't jibe with the actual time of our new destination. This can occur after crossing as few as three time zones. For example, you might be rushing off to see the Pyramids in Egypt, just when your brain was expecting to crawl under the covers for some badly needed sleep. Or, conversely, it might be time for lights out, but your mind is telling you that it's only three in the afternoon. Fortunately, traveling north-south is not a problem.

The most common symptoms of jet lag include loss of appetite, insomnia or fatigue, disorientation, and irritability. How seriously you feel these symptoms can depend on the direction you travel, the number of time zones crossed, and your personal susceptibility. The symptoms are compounded by other factors of air travel, such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, overabundance of food, alcohol and coffee, and lack of fresh air and exercise.

Included in the mix that is the jet lag conundrum is the ubiquitous hormone, melatonin. It is produced by a small gland in our brain called the pineal gland. Levels of melatonin are lowest during the day when we are awake and exposed to lots of light, and highest at night, helping us sleep.

Here are some tips for thwarting - or at least mitigating - the affects of jet lag:

Avoid the coffee and alcohol. Drink lots of fluids - preferably water - during the flight. Both alcohol and coffee have a dehydrating affect and can further upset your sleep patterns.

Don't eat everything that comes your way. Gases expand in the air up there. Your belt will need an extra notch or two by the time you arrive.

If you fly at night, try to get some sleep on the plane. Use earplugs and eye masks if you need to. Invest in an inflatable pillow. A short-acting sleeping pill might help with that snooze on the plane, and perhaps at your destination if jet lag is a problem.

Switch to the local time schedule upon your arrival. A cold shower, a brisk walk, or a quick swim could help you wake up if it is daytime at your destination.

If jet lag is a serious problem for you, considering scheduling a night's stopover on your way to your final destination. Taking the distance in stages can help.

Allow for some decompression time when you arrive. Unless you have no choice, postpone important meetings and tasks for a day or two.