Don’t let jet lag cause hard landingWhenever Sven Beissel boards a plane, he asks for tomato juice. The beverage helps keep jet lag at bay, says Mr. Beissel, the assistant food and beverage manager of the Seoul Hilton hotel.
Mr. Beissel says, “The pilots and flight attendants who stay at the hotel says it works.” Mr. Beissel does not like to drink tomato juice, but on the plane, “it always tastes good.”
Mr. Beissel travels at least once a month, most of the time to Europe. Just two weeks ago, he traveled to Germany to prepare for the Oktoberfest. And yes, in order to rest on the plane, he once again drank tomato juice, this time mixed into a cocktail. According to Mr. Beissel, recovery from jet lag was “not too bad.”
Most travelers passing through time zones experience jet lag. Studies show that as many as 94 percent of long-haul travelers experience some form of jet lag. But short-haul fliers can also experience mild cases.
Jet lag happens when your body’s clock is disrupted, according to Han Bok-soon, the medical director of Civil Aeromedical Institute Korean Air. The timing of your circadian rhythms, when you eat and sleep, goes helter skelter. You should be sleeping in New York, but it is lunchtime in Seoul. Right after flying, your body may experiences fatigue, disorientation, dehydration and digestion problems. It does not help that at a cruising altitude of near 30,000 feet, the aircraft is pressurized to nearly 8,000 feet, sometimes causing your limbs to swell. And the air up there is dry.
Strange advice for getting over jet lag includes “wear a brown paper in your shoes while traveling” to “after a trip, stand on a rug in your bare feet and dig your toes and heels in.”
Luckily, jet lag is temporary. Age makes some difference in recovery, but since it is not an illness, there are no parameters for people who are more prone to jet lag.
In extreme cases, the fatigue and bodily discomfort can lead to an irrational mindset. If you are on vacation, jet lag can ruin your first few days. If you are traveling for work, jet lag can affect your thinking. Greg Louganis, a world champion diver, cited jet lag as the reason he hit his head on the diving board at the 1988 Olympics. What is a traveler to do?
Before departing, Dr. Han recommends creating a sleep schedule, depending on the direction of travel. For people heading west, four days before departing, begin sleeping one hour later each day. For travelers heading east, Dr. Han recommends going to bed an hour earlier each day. “It’ll help you adjust to the time of your arrival location,” she says.
Years ago, doctors used to recommend that travelers sleep on the plane. But doctors have discovered that when and how long you sleep are just as important as sleep itself. Cat naps are generally better than sleeping through a long flight. “If you’re going to sleep on the plane, make sure it is just a nap and get up and walk around after waking up,” Dr. Han recommends.
The flight is also a good time to set your watch to the time at your destination. Try to time your naps and meals around when you would normally sleep or eat at your destination.
Also make sure you drink plenty of fluids. An Chul-hee, the manager of the overseas travel department at Freedom Travel Service, drinks orange juice. Mr. An travels abroad once a month.
Dr. Han said she knows of no scientific basis for choosing orange juice, tomato juice or any other specific beverage other than water. But she highly discourages drinking alcohol. “Yes, it’ll help you fall asleep, but you won’t have a deep sleep.” She also said that plain water is a much better choice than caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea, which can dehydrate you. “Drink often, but drink water,” she says.
After landing, exercise is also key to keeping jet lag at bay. At Asiana Airlines crews are advised to exercise three hours before sleeping and to shower in lukewarm water to help them relax after a long flight.
Some doctors recommend melatonin pills, touted as a “miracle” jet lag cure. Melatonin is a pineal hormone that regulates bodily rhythms. Taken at night, doctors say it can ease jet lag by “tricking” the mind into sleeping.
“Some people say taking melatonin pills helps you sleep better, others say it doesn’t help,” Dr. Han says. Research has shown that the benefit is greatest for five or more time zones crossed, particularly in the eastward direction. Dr. Han also cautioned that melatonin should not be taken daily.
If you arrive in the morning, it is especially important to stay awake and get a couple hours of sunlight. “I try to get into my normal cycle as soon as possible,” says Justin How, Area Director Korea for the Singapore Tourism Board. “If I have to go into the office, I’ll go into the office,” he says. “As long as I can get through the first day, I’ll be okay.”
by Joe Yong-hee