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Jet Lag

Updated on March 23, 2012

Because of our geographic location and our relatively high standard of living, Australians spend proportionately more time on long-distance flights than the citizens of almost any other nation. To Americans, a long-haul flight is the seven hours it takes to cross the Atlantic, but we may spend 30 hours or more in a plane flying to Europe. These long flights lead to medical problems, many of which can be avoided.

Jet lag is the most common phenomenon encountered on intercontinental flights, and it is worse when flying east (against time) than flying west. Children are particularly upset by time changes and may take several days to adjust, becoming irritable and restless in the meantime.

The best way to deal with very long flights is to have a stopover. This enables you to recover from the confinement of the aircraft, and gives opportunities to experience additional cultures and scenery. If only one stopover is possible, it should be taken when flying east (from Europe to Australia or Australia to America).

The main symptoms of jet lag are tiredness, headaches, nausea, aching muscles, dizziness and disorientation. The best way to deal with the problem is to adjust to the local time zone as soon as possible. Start having the meals at the same time as the locals, even though you may feel like breakfast at 9 p.m., and go to bed near your normal time by the local clocks.

Meals rich in carbohydrates will aid your recovery, but alcohol will slow it. The normal analgesic preparations (paracetamol and aspirin), and a mild sleeping tablet may be useful. A new medication containing a substance called melantoin is being used experimentally to prevent jet lag. If it works, it should be on the market in the near future.

The air in aircraft is very dry and at a lower pressure than that on the ground. The dry air will dehydrate you rapidly, and you should ensure that you have plenty to drink on the flight, but once again, avoid alcohol. The low air pressure may cause severe pain and occasionally significant damage if you have blocked ears or a cold. If in doubt, check with a doctor.

Unless you are one of those lucky enough to be in the first class cabin, there will not be a great deal of leg room. As a result, you tend to remain in the one position for long periods of time. This will cause blood to pool in your feet and legs, and they will swell up to the point that it may be difficult to replace shoes removed for comfort. This problem can be minimised if you move around the aircraft as much as possible, without inconveniencing the other passengers and staff, and leave the aircraft for a long walk at every stop on route.

Accept the meals offered in flight, but do not overeat. Leave some food on the plate. When crossing many time zones, small amounts of foou taken frequently are better than the normal three large meals a day.


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