How to beat jet lag and cope with sleepiness

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on October 28, 2019

Tricks to beat the disorientation brought on by zipping across time zones

Qantas’ recent non-stop flight from New York to Sydney, lasting over 19-and-a-half hours, was greeted with awe by the aviation world. For ultra-long-haul flyers, however, such extended travel across several time zones is all a big yawn, given the reality of being cooped up for nearly a whole day in what is, after all, a flying tin can and battling sleep-depriving jet lag.

Long-haul flights (of up to 12 hours) and ultra-long-haul flights (of 14 hours and more) are becoming increasingly common. Non-stop flights between India and the UK, Germany and France are considered LH flights, while those to the US are considered ULH flights.

In fact, during the five-month period that Pakistan had closed its airspace to India in late February this year, Air India was operating flights that were nearly as long as the Qantas-New York service.

"The San Francisco-Delhi non-stop service would fly for about 18-and-a-half hours," said a pilot, who operated this flight several times during the five-month period.

Read also: Qantas completes longest non-stop passenger test flight

For travellers who abhor long layovers at halfway-house airports, such long-duration flights may be something of a convenience, but health experts caution that sitting cooped up in an aircraft for extended periods also takes a toll on one’s body.

A toll on the body

For starters, passengers on long-haul flights zip through various time zones as the aircraft soars across the globe, which induces a certain disorientation of their bodies.

“This leads to jet lag when you land,” explains Dr Rajesh Chawla, Senior Consultant, Respiratory, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

Sitting for long periods causes blood to collect in the lower limbs, and this could, in turn, lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis, adds Dr Chawla.

When a person lies down and sleeps, the blood flow is proper, but when the person sits up for extended hours, there is pressure on the legs. “This can lead to pulmonary embolism, where a clot in a lower limb can block arteries from the heart,” he cautions. Such incidences are not rare, and are occurring with disturbing frequency, he points out.

However, there are ways to limit the wear and tear on the body, so that you can enjoy your stay at your journey’s end, without that horrible jet-lagged feeling.

Keeping jet lag at bay

The way to do this is to start preparing for your travel before you take off, continue with the regimen while you are on board, and persist even after you land. According to pilots, there are several things you can do to prepare the body before you board the flight.

"Ahead of an early-morning departure, say at 2 a.m., I make it a point to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon," says a former Jet Airways pilot. “This helps keep the body and mind fresh, which is vital for coping with long flights.”

An Air India pilot who regularly operates the Delhi-San Francisco return flight, advises passengers to get adequate rest before, during and after a flight.

There are other hacks you can try on the flight as well: for example, walking every few hours on a long-haul flight helps with the blood circulation.

Since aircraft typically fly at 40,000 to 45,000 feet above sea level, constant air pressure and temperature have to be maintained in the plane through the air-conditioning vents. However, this sucks out the moisture in the cabin, which can result in passengers’ skin getting extremely dry. A pilot recommends the use of moisturising lotions to avoid this dryness.

It is also important to imbibe fluids on board in order to remain hydrated, but doctors suggest that it may be prudent to avoid or reduce alcohol and coffee intake on a flight as this leads to dehydration. Instead, they suggest more water and juices.

However, research conducted by Qantas Airlines and Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre establishes that typically, passengers are given to alcoholic indulgences. The study found that 38 per cent of passengers drank alcohol to help them sleep, while 10 per cent used sleeping tablets while on long-haul flights.

There are other simple tricks to avoid jet lag, which passengers can try on reaching their destination – such as adapting to the timezone they have arrived in. The simplest way to do this is by venturing out into the sunshine: that helps the body clock get back in synch with the chronological time.

Interestingly, the Qantas and Charles Perkins Centre research also showed that 47 per cent of the passengers surveyed were not making a conscious effort to do this – although it is a proven way to beat jet lag.

Published on October 24, 2019

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