Gilded Serpent presents...
Secrets of a Road Warrior, Part 2:
Beating Jet Lag
received positive feedback on
last year's travel checklist, and also some requests for more
detail. This series of articles provides a more detailed discussion
on how to stay healthy when traveling, and how to deal with common
traveler's ailments. Part
1- Introduction here
taking a dream vacation to Egypt,
attending a dance retreat in Hawaii, or vending at a large festival,
we don't want our travel plans ruined by jet lag and the health
problems it can cause. Over many years of traveling on business
in my day job in the high tech industry as well as traveling for
dance, I've developed some techniques that usually work for me
in minimizing the discomfort and health risks jet lag can cause.
In this article, I'll share what I do and why.
Shira and Gilded Serpent are not prescribing!
Women have been burned for less. Please consult your doctor
before taking any medications!
you try any of the ideas I've suggested in this article, please
discuss them with your own doctor! If you are pregnant
or breast-feeding a baby, you need to consider how your actions
might affect your baby's health. If you take prescription drugs
for any reason, you'll want to make sure you don't do something
that will prevent your drugs from being effective or make your
condition worse. If you have allergies or immune system issues,
you'll want to be careful to avoid any actions that could cause
you further difficulty. I am not a health care professional,
and I don't claim to know how my techniques for travel comfort
might apply to your own health issues.
Why Focus on Jet
lag is a common condition that can interfere with your ability
to enjoy your travel. It interferes with your ability to sleep,
and it can leave you feeling too drained to dance, sightsee, or
vend. More importantly, this fatigue can weaken your immune system
and make it harder to fight back against cold viruses and other
germs that you are exposed to in your travels!
there are never any guarantees - it's possible you might follow
all of my advice and still feel exhausted or succumb to an illness.
I find that the techniques described here enable me to travel
more comfortably, but you may need to experiment to find alternative
approaches that are more effective for you.
What is Jet Lag?
people have different definitions of jet lag, but everyone agrees
it's the physical discomfort that results from traveling long
distances via airplane. Travelers on short trips generally don't
experience this problem, but when we're flying 5 hours or longer
we start to feel tired, drained of energy, and generally out of
this problem was attributed to the body's difficulty adapting
to a new time zone, but today savvy travelers know that time zone
adjustment is only one of several challenges that the body faces
on long trips. Travelers who cover long distances, particularly
via airplane, typically face:
- Lack of
if we travel a short distance and stay within the same time zone,
we can still have difficulty sleeping on the road. The unfamiliar
noises, uncomfortable hotel beds, and excitement of traveling
can keep us awake.
several tricks you can try to fall asleep in a strange place.
Here are some that have worked for me over the years:
foods make us more alert, while other foods lull us into drowsiness.
If you pay attention to what you eat and drink, you may find that
sleep comes to you more easily.
- At supper
time, I try to eat carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, and
minimize protein. These will help encourage my body to feel
- I take
along an immersion heater for boiling a cup of hot
water and some soothing herbal tea suitable for inducing sleep,
such as tea containing chamomile, mint, or valerian. I brew
myself a cup of this tea before going to bed.
and caffeine consumed en route can make it more difficult to
fall asleep upon arrival. I recommend that you avoid coffee,
sodas, and alcoholic beverages while in transit and continue
to avoid them your first two days at your destination.
have probably learned how to tune out the usual nighttime noises
in your own neighborhood when it's time to fall asleep. However,
it may be difficult to similarly ignore the unfamiliar noises
in your hotel's neighborhood. You may find it difficult to sleep
with the roar of traffic, honking car horns of Cairo, crickets
chirping outside the window, birds singing, ambulance sirens,
sound of people talking loudly in your hotel's hallway, television
or radio from the occupants of the hotel room next door, etc.
- I enjoy
taking a portable CD or tape player along which I use to listen
to relaxing music or sounds of nature. I use a travel alarm
from The Sharper Image with a setting that plays soothing sounds
for sleep, such as thunderstorm or crackling fire.
- I recently
discovered that noise-canceling headphones make it easier for
me to fall asleep on an airplane or in a hotel room. I use the
Bose ones. I had previously tried a set from Brookstone,
but they didn't seem to offer much noise cancellation.
- Some of
my friends like to use earplugs to help screen out strange noises
in the hotel's hallway or on the street. I personally find them
too annoying in my ears, but I still think it's worthwhile to
try them and see if they work for you.
- I take
a small spray bottle of relaxation-inducing aromatherapy scent
such as lavender and spray a quick squirt on my pillow before
crawling into bed.
- I try to
take a hot bath or shower before bed. The humidity usually helps
my body recover from the dehydrating effects of airplane conditions,
and the heat helps me relax. I usually use a bit of scented
bath oil or powder to help prepare for sleep. This is my favorite
relaxation technique. I find that the hot bath particularly
helps relax the muscle knots that form in my back when I sit
or stand for too many hours in a row. (I have scoliosis, so
this is an important issue for me.)
- I try to
avoid doing anything that engages too much of my brain at bedtime.
This is not the time for studying my travel guide to plan sightseeing
or opening my computer to do work. Instead, I take a relaxing
trashy novel to read.
- When staying
at a hotel with bright street lights outside my window or hallway
lights seeping in under the door, I like to wear eye shades
to block that extra light. This is particularly pleasant when
I don't need to get up early the next morning. I use the kind
sold in luggage stores that have a slight padded ridge around
the cheekbone edge that prevents them from pressing against
About Sleeping Pills?
prefer to avoid sleeping pills, because they can make dehydration
worse and leave me continuing to feel groggy the next day. They
can also create a health risk. Sleeping pills tend to suppress
natural movement of the limbs during sleep, which creates higher
risk of the deadly blood clots that can be caused by sitting still
too long in a car, airplane seat, or train. But, if you are convinced
that sleeping pills are right for you, that's your choice to make.
Time Zone Adjustments
on the road is even more difficult when the journey involves time
zone shifts. I have discovered that if I travel only one or two
time zones, my body adapts without much trouble. However, if
I travel three or more time zones, then my cycle for eating and
sleeping is disrupted. Over my years of travel, I have developed
several techniques for adjusting my body to a new time zone.
technique is to use the hormone melatonin, which regulates the
body's response to light and dark. Doctors disagree on how, when,
and whether to use it, but I find that it's helpful for me.
I used to
think that the way to use melatonin was simply to use it as a
bedtime sleeping pill at my destination. But when I tried this,
it didn't seem particularly helpful. A few years ago, I read
about a study that recommended a "plan-ahead" approach to using
melatonin. This proved very effective for me when I tried it
for a trip to Turkey
later that year, and it also worked for me when I went to Egypt
in 2003 and 2004.
it recommended: Several days before leaving for the trip, I determine
what time of day in my home city matches bedtime at my destination.
Then, two days before I am scheduled to leave on my trip, I take
about 1-2 milligrams of melatonin (about 1/4 or 1/2 pill, depending
on the dosage size you buy) at what would be bedtime in my destination
city. The next day, take a similar dose at the same time. On the
day of travel itself, I take another dose, and if my flight is
many hours in length, I may need to take one more on the airplane.
I live in the same time zone as Chicago and I want my body to
accept a 10:00 bedtime at my destination. If I'm planning a trip
to Cairo, there's an 8-hour time zone difference, so when it's
2:00 p.m. in Chicago, it's 10:00 p.m. in Cairo. Therefore, I would
take my pre-travel melatonin doses at 2:00 p.m. in the local Central
time zone each day before departure.
traveling to Egypt in
the summer for the Ahlan wa Sahlan dance festival, this chart
Home Time Zone
a 10:00 p.m. Bedtime in Egypt
an 11:00 p.m. Bedtime in Egypt
a Midnight Bedtime in Egypt
melatonin at 3:00 p.m.
melatonin at 4:00 p.m.
melatonin at 5:00 p.m.
melatonin at 2:00 p.m.
melatonin at 3:00 p.m.
melatonin at 4:00 p.m.
melatonin at 1:00 p.m.
melatonin at 2:00 p.m.
melatonin at 3:00 p.m.
melatonin at noon
melatonin at 1:00 p.m.
melatonin at 2:00 p.m.
also recommend adjusting mealtime 2-3 days before departure. I've
never tried this myself because I find the use of melatonin described
above to be sufficient for my own needs. However, if you have
a history of sleep difficulty when traveling you may want to try
it. Eat your meals in your home time zone at the same time of
day as mealtime in your destination. So, if I were going to do
this, I would eat a high-protein meal about midnight in Central
time zone to coincide with 8:00 a.m. breakfast time in Cairo.
I would eat a high-carbohydrate meal about an hour or two before
my melatonin dose to coincide with suppertime in Egypt.
at my destination, I take 4-5 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime
the first and second nights I am there.
travel stores sell devices such as visors that are designed to
be worn on airplanes while en route. These dose your body with
the natural spectrum of sunlight during the hours when it is daylight
at the destination. I have never tried one myself, because I
found the techniques described above to be sufficient for my needs.
I'll let you decide for yourself whether it's something you want
I arrive at my destination during daylight, I try to spend some
time outdoors and soak up the sunlight. Going for a walk to
explore the neighborhood around the hotel is an interesting
way to do this, and especially enjoyable if I am traveling to
a different country such as Egypt
often try to pick up a few items at neighborhood shops, such as
snacks or bottled water to enjoy in my hotel room. While I enjoy
the ethnic sights and sounds at my destination, the spectrum of
the natural sunlight helps my body reset its internal rhythms
to the new location, making it more likely I'll be ready for sleep
when bedtime arrives. I try to discipline myself to be up and
moving around through the daylight hours, without a nap, although
it isn't always easy! Exercise often helps stay awake.
melatonin and using the techniques above for falling asleep in
a strange place, I find I usually can fall asleep easily my first
night, and sleep through most of the night. I tend to wake up
feeling refreshed the next morning.
I then try
to begin my day with a high protein breakfast: meat, cheese, milk,
yogurt, eggs, and high-protein vegetables such as soy.
night at the destination, I'm more likely to have trouble sleeping
than I did the first night. So I'll use all my tricks for coaxing
my body to sleep, including additional melatonin. By the third
night, my body is usually well adjusted to the light/dark cycle
of my destination so I don't bother with further melatonin doses.
to return home, I just repeat the above process.
significant cause of jet lag discomfort can be dehydration. It
leads to dizziness, fatigue, muscle weakness or cramps, wrinkly
skin, and headaches. Dried mucous membranes in your nose and mouth
are unable to perform their function of preventing germs from
entering your body, leaving you more vulnerable to catching a
cold from that sneezing passenger two rows away.
difficult economy, few airlines serve sufficient beverages to
provide our bodies with the fluid required to function well. In
addition, the coffee, sodas, or cocktails that we drink in airports
or on the airplane may lead us to believe we are consuming enough
fluid, when in fact caffeine and alcohol make dehydration worse.
In addition, the air on airplanes is very dry, and sucks the moisture
out of our skin, mouths, and nasal membranes.
prevent dehydration, when I travel I take my own bottled water
on board the airplane, and I try to drink at least the equivalent
of one 8-ounce glass of water per hour of flight time.
I also avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeine-containing drinks at
airports and on board - if I want something more interesting than
water to drink, I opt for fruit juice, sparkling water, herbal
tea without caffeine, or milk.
On long flights,
I sometimes also soak a washcloth in hot water and lay it over
my face for a few minutes to bring moisture to my skin and nasal
membranes. If I forget the washcloth, I go to the airplane's washroom
and use a paper towel to blot my face with warm water. I put drops
of salt water solution (which can be purchased in drugstores)
in my nose.
I don't normally
take skin moisturizer with me on trips, because I usually find
that warm water is sufficient. However, if you normally use skin
moisturizer at home, you may want to ensure you include it in
your carry-on luggage so you can use it on board the airplane.
I find that
my lips become very dry on airplanes, so I take
lip balm to soothe them and use it as often as necessary for comfort.
can also irritate the eyes. On long flights, even if you don't
wear contact lenses, you may find that your eyes are uncomfortably
dry. I recommend placing a few drops of sterile salt water solution
in each eye periodically through the flight. Some people also
take along eyedrops designed to remove
redness, but I usually don't bother with those. I find that it's
sufficient to get enough sleep and use the salt water to soothe
the ventilation air valve above your airplane seat blow directly
into your face. I usually shut it off.
It's a bad
idea to wear contact lenses on flights that are longer than three
hours, especially if you have the gas-permeable kind like I do.
My hard lenses don't normally give me any trouble, but the dry
air on airplanes often makes my eyes very uncomfortable. The
problem becomes worse if you try to nap on the airplane, because
while you are asleep you don't have the blinking action to lubricate
your eyes. I once had severe eye pain with a constant stream of
tears caused by wearing my contact lenses on a five-hour flight,
and I was unable to wear my contact lenses for 48 hours afterward.
For that reason, I now always wear glasses on long flights and
put in my contact lenses after I arrive at my destination. Admittedly,
I have sometimes worn my contact lenses on other 5-hour flights
with no ill effect - the time I had the problem with my lenses
there were other factors at work, including exhaustion and stress.
But even when I'm well rested, I still find that my eyes are more
comfortable if I leave the contact lenses in their case for long
When I went
to Egypt in 2004 with
a group, one of the women told me over dinner the first night
that she wasn't feeling well. She had a bad headache, dizziness,
and fatigue. I asked how much water she'd had to drink in the
past 24 hours, and it wasn't much. So right there at supper I
urged her to drink plenty of it. She hesitated at first, but
I insisted. An hour and a half later, as we finished our meal,
she happily told me she felt so much better. The headache
was gone and she felt a bit stronger. She had been dehydrated,
and simple water was sufficient to solve her problem.
if the hotel has a bathtub, take a long, leisurely bath. This
will restore moisture to the skin, lips, and mucous membranes,
plus release humidity into the air of the hotel room. The bath
also soothes muscles stressed from sitting in cramped airplane
seats and airport lounges. If a tub is not available, take a long
shower. Even when you're done bathing and dried off, allow the
water to continue sitting in the tub a while to continue humidifying
the air. Hotel rooms frequently have very dry air, which can continue
the dehydration problems even after you have escaped the airplane.
seats and airport departure lounges are cramped. You sit still
for many hours at a time, and your circulation slows down due
to lack of exercise. Blood may pool in your feet, causing them
to swell. Your back may begin to ache from spending too much
time in a sitting position. Muscles throughout your body start
to feel stiff from being held in one position too long. These
are not pleasant, and in fact can be openly dangerous.
it's not common, people have been known to suffer a stroke, deep
vein thrombosis, or an embolism as a result of airplane travel.
If you have any health conditions related to circulation problems
such as embolisms, stroke, or diabetes, it's very important for
you to be alert to this danger and take appropriate measures to
minimize your risk. In addition to considering the suggestions
I have offered here, you should discuss this issue with your doctor
before you leave home to see whether she has further advice.
try to move around a bit on the airplane. Even if you don't need
a toilet, walk down the aisle to the lavatory to wash your hands
and moisten your washcloth with warm water to soothe your dry
face. Or, do some rib cage circles to ease your stiff back - I
find these are wonderful for the scoliosis pain I feel after a
long flight. Bend over at the waist and straighten up a few times.
Walk up and down the aisle a couple of times just for the sake
of doing it. Walk to the galley and request a cup of hot water
from the flight attendants to use in making herbal tea. While
there, linger a little while and do a few hip lifts, hip bumps,
and other moves that are suitable for standing in place. Your
legs and glutes contain the largest
muscles in your body - if you exercise them, they will encourage
circulation everywhere. Shoulder rolls are pleasant for relieving
stiff neck and shoulders, and you may even be able to do these
after returning to your seat.
people make connecting flights, they tend to proceed straight
from the gate of arrival to the gate of departure for their connecting
flight, then sit down and wait some more. Instead of doing this,
take the opportunity if time permits to walk briskly around the
seek an opportunity to exercise. Whether you choose to rehearse
a dance you're planning to perform on your trip, take a swim in
the hotel pool, work through a session on a treadmill in the hotel
gym, or a walk around the neighborhood, exercise drives oxygen
into your blood, helping you feel more awake and alert. This also
helps your body reset its expectations about which time of day
you should be active and further helps adjust to the new time
supply stores may offer other products for combating jet lag.
Some may be effective, some not. For example, on one of my trips
to Egypt I tried a homeopathic
product called No Jet Lag, and it seemed to be a waste of money
for me. I won't use it again. Other products may include herbal
teas, miracle drugs, and other gimmicks.
It may be
interesting to take a look at what the stores have to offer. Sometimes
exciting new techniques indeed surface. However, don't forget
to use your best judgment. If a product seems too good to be
true, it probably is.
Packing Checklist for Fighting Jet Lag
To help you
plan ahead for your trip and pack, here is a checklist summarizing
the items I described in this article.
you hope to sleep on the airplane, pack these in your carry-on
luggage. Otherwise, if you're content to wait until you
reach your hotel, you can put them in your checked bag.
snacks for bedtime such as dried fruit
or plastic cups for water
water (if you don't trust the tap water at your destination)
bags of sleep-supporting herbal teas
player with soothing sound effects CD
scent aromatherapy spray for pillow
or other relaxing scent bath salts for pre-bedtime hot
bath in hotel
reading material, such as trashy novel
shades to block light
To New Time Zone
with sunlight spectrum
- High-protein snacks
for morning such as beef jerky
recommend including all these items in your carry-on luggage
so you can use them while you are on the airplane or in
water to drink on airplane
to moisten and place over face
salt solution for eyedrops and
balm to protect against chapping
to wear on airplane (if you normally wear contact lenses)
Back Ache, Muscle Stiffness
clothing and/or swimwear
exercise props you require (for example, yoga mat)
- Supplies for dance-oriented
exercise (portable CD player, CD, hip scarf, etc.)
a comment? Send us a
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