Jet Lag

  1. What Is Jet Lag?
  2. What Causes Jet Lag?
  3. Who Gets Jet Lag?
  4. Techniques for Reducing Jet Lag
  5. Escaping Jet Lag
    bulletSet Your Body Clock

  What Is Jet Lag?


Being worn out and tired for days after arriving, generally accompanied by a lack of concentration and motivation, especially for any activity that requires effort or skill, such as driving, reading or discussing a business deal. But even simple daily activities can become harder, and one's capacity to truly enjoy a tourist holiday is significantly reduced.


bulletDisorientation, fuzziness

Having to return to check three times to see if a hotel room was left locked or unlocked is a typical symptom reported by flight crews experiencing jet lag. Again, not good if you're on a business trip.


bulletBecoming irrational or unreasonable

"Losing it" is another symptom reported by aircrew, which explains why long-haul flights get very tedious near the end, and why going through customs and immigration and getting to the hotel often seems like a real drama.


bulletBroken sleep after arrival

Crossing time zones can cause you to wake during the night and then want to fall asleep during the day. Your inbuilt circadian rhythms have been disturbed, and it can take many days for the body to readjust to the new time zone. (NASA estimates you need one day for every time zone crossed to regain normal rhythm and energy levels. So a 5-hour time difference means you will require 5 days to get back to normal! Can you afford that?)

In addition to the above symptoms of jet lag, the syndrome is made worse by some common physical problems caused by being confined in an airliner for hours:



This can cause headaches, dry skin and nasal irritation, and make you more susceptible to any colds, coughs, sore throats and flu that are floating round in the aircraft.


bulletDiscomfort of legs and feet

Limbs swelling while flying can be extremely uncomfortable, and in some cases may prevent travellers wearing their normal shoes for up to 24 hours after arrival.

A report from the World Health Organisation directly links jet lag with problems of diarrhea caused by microbiological contamination of water or food, which it says affects about 50% of longhaul travellers. "Factors such as travel fatigue, jet lag, a change in diet, a different climate and a low level of immunity may aggravate the problem by reducing a travellers' resistance and making them more susceptible to this type of infection or poisoning," the report says.

  What Causes Jet Lag?
bulletCrossing time zones

The main but not the only cause of jet lag is crossing time zones. Usually going east is worse than going west. Children under three don't seem to suffer jet lag badly as they are more adaptive and less set in their ways. Adults who adjust readily to changes of routine also seem less susceptible to jet lag. Those who are slaves to a fixed daily routine are often the worst sufferers.


bulletYour pre-flight condition

If you're over-tired, excited, stressed, nervous, or hungover before the flight, you are setting yourself up for a good dose of jet lag. How many times have you heard travellers say "Don't worry, I'll catch up on the flight"? Well you don't. The wise traveller who wants to get the most out of a trip has a good night's sleep prior to departure.


bulletDry Atmosphere

The air aboard passenger jet aircraft is dry. To people who normally live in more humid conditions the change can be striking. The dryness can cause headaches, dry skin and dry nasal and throat membranes, creating the conditions for catching colds, coughs, sore throats or the flu. Drinking plenty of water helps, and some frequent flyers take a bottle of water with them. Some airlines supply water frequently to passengers, but others only have a small water fountain near the toilets. Coffee, tea alcoholic drinks and fruit juices are not recommended. Water is what your body wants.


bulletCabin Pressure

At a cruising altitude of near 30,000' the aircraft is pressurized to near 8,000'. Unless you live near 8,000' and are acclimatized to this pressure you may suffer from swelling, tiredness and lethargy.


bulletStale Air

Providing a constant supply of fresh air in the cabin costs the airlines money, and some airlines are more willing to oblige than others. The air supply in business and first-class is often better than in economy class. A lack of good air helps make you tired and irritable and can cause headaches. Sometimes if you ask the flight attendants to turn up the fresh air they will do so.



The impact of alcohol on the body is 2-3 times more potent when you're flying. One glass of wine in-flight has the effect of 2-3 glasses on the ground. Add this to the other problems mentioned here, and you can get off the plane with a huge hangover that simply compounds the effects of jet lag.


bulletFood and drink

Airline coffee and tea not only tend to taste awful_they have a higher than usual caffeine content and are abrasive on the stomach. Orange juice is also abrasive if you are not used to it. If you don't normally drink really strong coffee, tea or orange juice, don't try it while flying. Also go easy on the frequent meals served in-flight. You don't need them. And sitting in a cramped position puts extra pressure on your stomach. Also beware risky foods served on some airlines in certain parts of the world, including salads and cold meat and fish. According to WHO, 50% of international travellers get stomach problems, so dietary care is important while flying.


bulletLack of exercise

Lack of exercise is one of the worst aspects of long-haul flying. It makes the flight uncomfortable and sets you up for a longer period of jet lag afterwards. Do stretching exercises in your seat, especially for the legs, and if possible go for walks up and down the aisle. If you have a spare seat next to you, try to get your feet up. Get off the plane whenever possible at stopovers and do some exercises (don't worry what others think). If there is an opportunity during a ground stop, take a shower - it freshens you, tones the muscles and gets the blood moving again.

  Who Gets Jet Lag?

Almost everyone on a long flight suffers jet lag to some degree.

A major US study by Upjohn showed 94% of longhaul travellers experience it.

A survey by Conde Naste showed 93% of longhaul travellers experience it.

A New Zealand study showed 96% of flight attendants suffer from it. (See www.nojetlag.com.)

bulletFlight Professionals

A 1994 survey of New Zealand based international flight attendants showed a similar result, with 96% of respondents saying they suffered from jet lag despite being accustomed to longhaul travel. Specifically 90% suffered from tiredness after arrival, 94% experienced loss of energy and motivation and 93% reported broken sleep after arrival. (www.nojetlag.com)



It affects passengers even more than the flight professionals. Firstly because they are generally less accustomed to the factors causing jet lag, and secondly because they are confined to a cramped space for long periods. There are also other factors such as the lack of fresh air in passenger areas.


bulletNot all people to the same degree

Young children often seem immune. People who normally stick to a rigid daily routine, and who are bothered by changes to routine, are often the worst sufferers. People whose normal lives involve highly varied routines can often adjust their circadian rhythms better, and adapt to a disruption of normal eating and sleeping patterns. People who sleep easily can also cope better with the adjustment.


bulletPeople crossing multiple time zones

The length of the flight is not the critical issue. The most important single factor is how many time zones you cross. People can suffer jet lag just crossing the United States (three hours' time change) but would be much less affected by a north-south flight of the same duration. The number of intermediate stops is also a factor, as each stop is accompanied by changes in cabin pressure. Lastly is your pre flight condition.

If you are not fit, rested and healthy you will probably suffer more jet lag than others on the same flight.

As a longhaul Singapore Airlines pilot says;

"Everyone gets jet lag, it's a matter of personal difference as to how long you suffer after the flight."


  Techniques for Reducing Jet Lag

This is one of the most important aspects of combating jet lag. Before departing, make sure you have all your affairs, business and personal, in order. Ensure you are not stressed-out with excitement or worry, and not tired or hungover from a function the night before. Get plenty of exercise in the days prior to departure and try to avoid sickness such as the flu, colds and so on. If you have a cold, flying will probably make it worse _ ideally you should delay the trip. Get a good night's sleep just prior to departure.


bulletEast or west?

There is much debate about whether it is better to fly eastward or westward. It may be largely a matter of personal preference, but there is some evidence that flying westwards causes less jet lag than flying eastwards.


bulletNight or day flight?

Again it is largely a matter of personal preference based on experience. Most travellers think daytime flights cause less jet lag. We note that more daytime long haul flights are being added by major airlines.


bulletDrinking fluids

The dry air in aircraft causes dehydration. Drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids counters this. Water is better than coffee, tea and fruit juices. Alcohol not only is useless in combating dehydration, but has a markedly greater intoxicating effect when drunk in the rarefied atmosphere of an airliner than it does at ground level.


bulletSleeping aids

Blindfolds, ear plugs, neckrests and blow-up pillows are all useful in helping you get quality sleep while flying. Kick your shoes off to ease pressure on the feet (some airlines provide soft sock-like slippers, and many experienced travellers carry their own).



Get as much exercise as you can. Walking up and down the aisle, standing for spells, and doing small twisting and stretching exercises in your seat all help to reduce discomfort, especially swelling of legs and feet. Get off the plane if possible at stopovers, and do some exercises or take a walk. Also helps to reduce the possibilities of blood clots and associated trauma.



During extended stopovers on a long-haul flight, showers are sometimes available. A shower not only freshens you up but gets the muscles and circulation going again and make you feel much better for the rest of the flight. Trans-Pacific pilots have told us taking a shower in Hawaii helps them recover more quickly from the general effects of jet lag after the flight.



This is a safe and effective remedy for countering jet lag, in the form of easy-to-take tablets. Its effectiveness has been proved in a scientific trial of round-the-world passengers and confirmed by long-haul flight attendants in a test conducted in cooperation with their union. Being a homeopathic preparation using extremely low dosages, No-Jet-Lag has no side effects and is compatible with other medications. It has no connection with the controversial hormone melatonin. No-Jet-Lag is available worldwide by mail order, and is sold at outlets such as international airports, pharmacies and travel stores in Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.



This is a controversial and complex treatment for jet-lag. Latest research shows if used incorrectly Melatonin will make jet-lag worse!


bulletAnti-jet-lag diet

Another method is the anti-jet-lag diet. Like Melatonin this is only for people with lots of time on their hands who can devote several days before and after a trip to looking after themselves. It is complicated and there is little evidence that it works, although it has some passionate devotees.


bulletSleeping Pills

Some people use this to try to alleviate jet lag. This is a dangerous approach as a report in the Lancet in 1988 says "that over three years at Heathrow Airport, 18% of the 61 sudden deaths in long distance passengers were caused by clots in the lungs." Sleeping pills induce a comatose state with little or no natural body movement. Imagine leg veins as bags of blood. When this blood doesn't circulate there is a possibility that it will clot.

Also many so-called sleeping pills are variants on anti-histamines and they tend to dehydrate significantly adding to the already big problem of dehydration.

Source: www.nojetlag.com

  Escaping Jet Lag

Nearly 96 percent of all air travelers suffer from jet lag, the disruption of the body's clock that can last from a few hours to several days.

That means a lot of lost sleep for people on vacation and business trips.

Science Editor Michael Guillen says jet lag occurs whenever our body time is out of sync with earth time. Scientists have discovered that our master clock is located in the brain and that it receives messages through light exposure on whether it's day or night. That's how the clock stays in sync with the rising and setting of the sun.

Set Your Body Clock

If you travel around time zones really quickly, your body might think it's time for breakfast, while the earth says it's time for dinner. So whenever you travel, Guillen says you should try to stay outdoors when you first arrive so that your clock can figure out what the new daytime and nighttime cycle is. If you arrive at night and there is no sunlight to adjust to, or if you're stuck indoors, there's a whole variety of artificial light sources that replace the sun.

Guillen says the best jet lag treatment is simple and inexpensive. Travelers should get as much sunlight as they can possibly soak up and they should sleep during their flights. He says skipping the movie and the meal for a good nap will do wonders.

Although some of the items listed below may help you feel better, Guillen says it's not likely they'll completely get rid of that groggy feeling that comes along with flying.
bulletSomnavue Fiber Optic Spectacles. They'll be available late summer or early fall. The glasses cost about $800. Find more information on the following website, www.etai.com.


bulletAcclimator Jet Lag Watch. It's available now and it costs $49.95. There's more information on www.jetlag.com.


bulletNo Jet Lag Pills, Aquagen Drops, and Airborne pills. Prices range from $9.85 to $19.85 and they're available on www.magellans.com.


bulletThe Jet Lag Eliminator is available for $19.95. For information about how it works click on their wesbite listed above.


bulletLite-A-Lux light boxes start at $249 and they are available at health food stores at their website, sunalite.com.

Source: ABC News