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How to Avoid and Combat Jet Lag

A doctor's advice on avoiding jet lag.

Modern jet planes can cross many times zones in a relatively short period of time. When you arrive at your destination, the body clock which regulates your sleep, wakefulness, and other activities may be disturbed. This disruption can produce irritability, fatigue, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, loss of appetite, and other discomforts. Jet lag is not a problem on north-south flights which do not cross time zones. And, it is generally easier to adjust to a time shift when traveling from east to west than from west to east.

A number of strategies have been developed to minimize jet lag. One of the simplest involves switching to the sleeping and eating schedule of your destination, either while in flight or immediately upon arrival. Unless you initiate this strategy before departure, however, it only reduces the length of time when jet lag is a problem. It does not prevent jet lag or lessen the initial discomfort.

Another approach adjusts the body clock with diet. The "Anti-Jet-Lag Diet," developed by Dr. Charles F. Ehret of Argonne National Laboratories, alternates days of "feasting" on high-protein breakfasts and lunches and high-carbohydrate dinners with days of "fasting" on small, low-calorie meals. Start by feasting on the fourth day before arriving at your destination, then fast on the third day, feast on the second, and fast one day before. During the first three days, drink beverages which contain caffeine only between 3 and 5 pm. On the day before arrival, however, you should drink caffeine in the morning for a westbound flight or between 6 and 11 pm for an eastbound flight. Do not drink alcohol on the plane. To obtain a wallet-sized card outlining this diet, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Anti-Jet-Lag Diet, OPA, Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 South Cass Ave., Argonne, IL 60439.

A third technique uses light to reset the body clock, because light has the ability to inhibit the production of a brain hormone that triggers sleep. If you are traveling from east to west and arrive during daylight, go outside and take a walk in the sun. If you are traveling from west to east, avoid the sun for the rest of the day. The next morning, no matter which direction you have traveled, take a walk outdoors in the sunshine. Avoid wearing sunglasses when outdoors during the first few days, and keep lights on indoors during the daytime.

A computerized service combines these strategies to provide travelers with instructions customized around their particular itineraries. For information, contact Jet Ready, Kinetic Software, Inc., 12672 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside, CA 94062 (415) 851-4484.

Although no anti-let-lag protocol is completely effective, these techniques will help you minimize the inconvenience. All of these techniques will work better if you also:
* Exercise regularly during the two or three weeks before your departure to build up your resistance to fatigue.
* Schedule your flight so that you arrive in the late afternoon or evening and are not faced with a full day's activities.
* Get a good night's sleep the night before your travel.
* Take a nap on a long flight, preferably during the hours corresponding to nighttime at your destination.
* Don't smoke, drink alcohol, or take unnecessary medications during your flight. If you are having difficulties stopping drinking, learn about the signs of alcoholism.
* Get up and walk around during your flight.
* Drink plenty of fluids on the plane.

Diabetics take note: You will need help from your doctors in adjusting your insulin dosage to compensate for the change in time zones.


Not only trekkers, skiers, and mountain climbers, but even ordinary sightseers are at risk for high altitude (or mountain) sickness. Today's travelers can arrive at high altitudes without having adequate time for their bodies to acclimate. Many ski resorts and mountain cities, for example, can be reached directly by jet planes which abruptly deposit travelers a mile or more above sea level. The result can be mountain sickness, which is caused by a reduction in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and muscles because of the lower atmospheric pressure at high elevations.

To prevent mountain sickness, take enough time - two or three days - for your body to become accustomed to the higher altitude. Don't plan vigorous activities right away. If you will be flying directly to a high-altitude destination, your doctor might prescribe acetazolamide. However, some people should not take this drug, so medical approval is important.

Mountain sickness is more common at elevations above 10,000 feet, though some people begin to show symptoms at elevations at low as 5,000 feet. Symptoms range from mild discomfort - headache, nausea, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and fatigue - to more acute disorders - confusion, reduced urine output, inability to sleep, intense headache, marked breathing difficulties, delirium, loss of memory, and unconsciousness. Extreme cases of mountain sickness can be quite serious and even fatal.

Trekkers and mountain climbers should allow their bodies to adjust at an altitude of 6,000-8,000 feet for a few days before going higher. You may climb higher during the day, but return to sleep at an elevation no more than 1,000 feet higher than the night before.

In addition to the risk of mountain sickness, high altitude can expose you to intense sun, cold and wind, and dry air. Be sure to protect against all these hazards.

Excerpted with permission from The Travel Health Clinic Pocket Guide To Healthy Travel, by Lawrence Bryson, M.D. To order, contact Silvercat Press, 888-299-9119/619-299-6774/ -- U.S. $13.95 (plus tax in California).

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