The Jet Lag Drag
Most of us have experienced jet lag before, also known as desynchronosis. It's like a hangover or tired feeling that can last for days. That's because we have an internal clock that functions around the 24-hour cycle of our sun. Most of us wake up before the alarm because our bodies learn our routine. Doesn't mean we actually get up and function but the eyes might twitch to see the clock. Any change from your normal cycle -- like constant bright lights or darkness -- can mess you up.
When that happens, these circadian rhythms -- meaning "around the day" -- that control your sleep/wake cycle or regulate body temperature, can malfunction. That's part of the reason why traveling out of your time zone can give you "jet lag." For instance, traveling to the west coast from the east you might, find your body is telling you it is 10 p.m., so go to sleep, and another part is recognizing the sun is still up, so go have some fun.
Trying to get out of that funk is the key to enjoying your stay and feeling like your old self. Otherwise, your concentration levels drop, irritability can rise and your body can revolt against the new time zone, leaving you less than perfect.
You can try some things to avoid this sleep-deprived suffering. Let's explore the possibilities of keeping you feeling alert and ready for your next adventure.
1. Sleep well.
Of course if you're fired up for the trip it's hard to get good rest the night before. Try to stick to your routine nonetheless. Even better, start modifying your sleep at home a few days early to make it an easier transition once you arrive at your destination. We do the same thing with our kids before they get ready to return to school.
2. Get up and move.
On the plane use the facility or take a stroll down the aisle to keep muscles loose, blood flowing and to keep yourself awake. Maybe start an exercise class on the airplane.
• You could hold an aisle seat and raise your legs
• Bend your knees slightly and slowly lower your hands
• Reach above you with both hands and lean side to side
• Arch your back backwards gently -- not like Cirque de Soleil
• Arm circles but don't smack passengers like it's a Three Stooges set.
• Neck tilts slowly side to side, ear to shoulder and hold 10 seconds
3. Easy on the sauce.
The bad news is alcohol has been shown to be more powerful when in the air. Alright! It's going to be a great flight! Actually alcohol can increase dehydration in the body as well as disrupt your sleep. Caffeine can also affect your body negatively, so now that I've completely ruined your fun, direct all complaints to the pilot.
Drink lots of water to help keep your body hydrated in the dry airplane air. When you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated and catching up is tough. Pro athletes drink throughout a game to stay on track.
4. Kick back and relax.
Wear comfortable clothes. Kick your shoes off and lean back, but remember to be courteous to others. Some foot powder can go a long way to staying friends.
If you want to circulate some air, never aim the airplane fan directly on your neck. Blasting cool air down on your neck muscles can cause spasms and neck pain later on. Try to circulate the air around you, but don't point it directly on you.
5. Embrace the darkness.
Depending on where you are traveling, you could bring an eye pillow or shades to help trick your body into accepting the new time difference. Heck, you will even look pretty cool coming out of the plane, with the shades on, that is. Less light will also help the body release melatonin as it normally would do to help you sleep.
Whether to take melatonin supplements is up to the individual. Probably best to see how you do with it while you are at home first.
6. Back at your best.
According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration study on ergonomics, a common cause of musculoskeletal disorders, such as neck pain, is being in awkward positions for extended periods of time.
Try sitting with your knees slightly higher than your hips to reduce back pressure. You could even place your feet on a small bag to help elevate them. Use some of the available blankets and pillows, bring your own or use a jacket, and support your neck and low back. Ease the seat back a few degrees so you aren't perfectly upright but around 105 degrees and reduce back pressure.
Bring an inflatable pillow to help keep your neck straight while riding in the uncomfortable plane seat. Try to get a bulk head or emergency row seat for extra room or go first class and live the dream.
6. Ear plugs.
Doesn't do much for the kid that is always kicking the seat behind you, but you won't have to hear his whimpering after you take his toy away. Ok, well it stops you from hearing all the other noise in the plane. As long as you don't mind hearing sea shell-like noise inside your brain or if you use a noise machine at home, you're golden.
7. Eat healthy, stay well.
Don't splurge at the Mexican restaurant and enjoy refried beans and spicy dip and expect to be comfortable on your flight. Focus on foods you know don't negatively affect your digestive system. Same goes for liquids. That way you can prevent heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation and other uncomfortable situations.
8. Read something.
Don't hang your head like a buzzard. The neck has a curve like a shallow "C." Any time you change that curve -- which can happen when you read a book in your lap or when you lean forward when you work on a computer or text -- you're paving the way for trouble down the road.
There's actually a diagnosis called forward head carriage, which happens when the head is moved forward and the ears are in front of the shoulders. For every inch the head is forward, the weight of the head on the neck is doubled, which can lead to disc degeneration.
Place your book or magazine on the food tray or in your lap on some pillows so it is elevated. That will reduce the strain on your neck.
9. Hit the head.
If not to remove some of the extra water you've been drinking, to splash a little water on your face and wake up and feel refreshed for the next four hours of the flight. Maybe even brush your teeth to keep yourself feeling and smelling fresh.
10. Its go time.
Now that you have arrived, do as the locals do. If they are eating dinner and you normally would be having cereal, eat dinner. Try to adjust to your new time zone, which is not easy at all. Limit any naps during the day to help get you on their schedule. Set your watch when the time is announced on the plane so you can plan your activities upon arrival.
Hey, you just reached your destination. Go have some fun but keep it within the new time zone and you will have the time of your life.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
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Dr. Jay M. Lipoff is the owner of Back At Your Best Chiropractic & Physical Therapy, LLC, which is located in the Wildewood Shopping Center. Dr. Lipoff is also the author of "Back At Your Best; Balancing the Demands of Life With the Needs of Your Body." It is available in book and Kindle format at Amazon.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Syracuse University in 1990, a Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.) from New York Chiropractic College (NYCC) in 1994 and he became a Certified Fitness Trainer (CFT) in 2005.
Dr. Lipoff is an Executive Board Member, International Chiropractic Association Council on Fitness and Sports Health Science; has a radio segment: Back At Your Best in 5 Minutes or Less, Co-Founder, Drug Free Training USA; Member, NY Strength-promoting the importance of physical conditioning; Board Member of Public Relations Committee, Maryland Chiropractic Association; has spoke on nationally broadcasted radio interviews, has articles in print and referenced in over 100 print papers, magazine and on websites.