Nurturing Jet Lag

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By Emmi Lane

For some people, jet lag is considered a workplace hazard. Nikola Lakic, a captain in Jet Asia Airways in Thailand, is one of them. “The worst jet leg I have had so far was after a flight from Miami to Bangkok. I was so exhausted after it I couldn’t differ was it due to jet lag or the length of the trip by itself.” That time he traveled as a passenger, and including a stopover the journey took more than 24 hours.

The time difference between Miami and Bangkok is 11 hours, which is enough to turn the cycle of day and night upside down. How did he manage? “I just took a shower and went to bed to rest,” he says. “I had no duties until the day after.” In general his airline instructs their staff to always start their flights well-rested. “During
the flight we do some exercises in the seat and after it rest again!”

But what if you have to adapt to a new timezone quickly? Maybe you don´t have time to rest, but have to hurry to the next meeting or flight. Lakic remains resourceful: he takes a nap, but only a short one so that he should still find himself sleepy around midnight. The adaptation is an urgent matter for passengers who are fly longer. He assists them: “The sooner they do, the better.” On the other hand, he agrees that it might be better not to mix the natural rhythm on shorter layovers.

While Capt. Lakic may tackle his after-air fatigue with rest, others try to do the same with light. One especially innovative example is a collaboration between Valkee, a Finnish electronics company, and Finnair, a Finnish airline. On their direct flights from Helsinki to Shanghai in April 2012. Business class passengers were given Bright Light Headsets, which channel light through the ear canal in hope of reaching the “photosensitive regions” of the brain, and consequently re-balancing the day rhythm.

Sounds suspicious perhaps, but this method might have some scientific substance. It appears, our brain experiences the new time zone as a disorder of the usual light-darkness balance. “It’s only in the past 100 years that we’ve been able to jump time zones,” says Steven W. Lockley, a consulting member of NASA’s fatigue management team to the New York Times. “We haven’t evolved a way to adapt yet.” Basically, even if we set our clocks to daytime, our brain still assures us it’s night.

The existence of this “biological clock” can be pointed in our brain, and it even has a name: hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus. This tiny group of cells in our brain is controlled by melatonin, a hormone which controls our level of alertness, and whose release is crucially affected by the amount of light we sense. In light, our brain responses by warming us up, feeling alert, hungry or in need of a bathroom. When dark, alas in lack of melatonin, the receptors make us feel inactive and sleepy instead. Consequently the actions in our brain form a “circadian rhythm”, a natural 24-hour clock controlling our body functions of hunger, digestion, bowel habits, urine production, body temperature and blood pressure. So even if we set our clocks again, our whole bodies are still in Australia or Saudi-Arabia, all they know.

Whether we can fool our natural clocks remains unclear. The pilot project with Finnair has not lead into larger collaboration yet, but readers who got interested now may buy their headsets on Valkee´s website for Bt8994 (£186.50). At least NHS, the biggest health website in the UK, predicts a sentence of doom: “It is not possible to prevent jet lag but there are things you can do to reduce its effects.” Perhaps our physics cannot be overcome and harnessed just yet, but what we can do is minimize the effects of jet lag and make our flights more pleasant.

So we hope you find this mini-guide useful for minimizing jet lag, which Veerawat Singhamany, the strategic marketing specialist at Jet Asia, was kind enough to provide:

    No alcohol
    No soda
    Prevent Economy Syndrome (potential blood clots formed during air travel) by stretching out, try to walk around in-flight.
    Drink water every 30mins (prevent dryness)
    Use eye drop for even a regular eyesight
    Use earplug / Eyemask / U-shape pillow
    Take Melatonin (helps restful sleep)
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