One of the spin-off benefits of my line of work is occasional invites to give a talk in some far-flung place or other. I have, as it happens, just returned from a short stint of lecturing in Vancouver. On my way over there it occurred to me how much I relish long-haul flying, specficlly how it insulates me from the outside world. With no phone to answer or emails to catch up on, the cocoon of an aircraft cabin affords me valuable thinking time and an opportunity to make some decent headway with the research reading that is part and parcel of my job. However, the high-life has its downside too: the flying start I get on a plane can so easily unravel on the ground as jet-lag takes a hold and my energy levels come down to Earth with a bump.
Over the years, I have learnt a few little tricks that can be quite effective in combating the undesirable effects induced by time-travel. One simple strategy that often pays off here is to choose flight times with some care. While some of us may be tempted to opt for very early or late flights in an effort to eke the most out of our schedule, this may cut into the amount of sleep we get before or after flight. Adding the insult of acute sleep deprivation to the injury of jet-lag increases the risk of our brain and body energies taking a nose-dive. If possible, flight times should be selected to ensure no shortage of sleep at either end of the journey.
Another factor that may influence our sense of well-being around the time of intercontinental travel is the food and drink we take in. The consumption of the often-unhealthy and additive-laden plane food will generally do little to feed our levels of energy. Complimentary caffeine and alcohol only add to the toxic load on the body, also tend to worsen the dehydration that the arid atmosphere of an aircraft cabin tends to induce. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after a flight will help to combat undue toxicity and dehydration, and packing a big bottle of this most basic fluids in our hand luggage will help to ensure we get enought to meet our needs in this respect. Another useful tactic is to travel with with a stock of healthy snacks such as fresh or dried fruit and nuts. Grazing on these can allay our appetite and help us to make more controlled choices about what and howmuch plastic plane food we eat.
One specific remedy that may help in the treatment of jet-lag is melatonin – the hormone we secrete at night to put us to sleep. Studies have shown that taking supplemental melatonin can significantly increase the speed of recovery after long-haul flying in about half of individuals who take it. Melatonin (at a dose of about 3 mg) should be taken before bed for several days after both the outbound and homeward flights. It may also aid sleep on fly-by-night journeys such as those from North America to the UK. While melatonin is available over-the-counter in the USA, it requires a prescription in the UK. Melatonin, in combination with some canny flight time and food choices, can ease the effects of jet-lag and keep our energy levels soaring around the time of international travel.