How to beat jet lag and prevent a more serious health problem – deep vein thrombosis – on long flights.
Air travel makes it easy to get to just about anywhere in the world you want to go. But although it gives us the freedom to travel the world, it’s not without its drawbacks.
Aside from the usual headaches of delayed flights, long security lines and lost baggage, there are a couple of health issues you’ll have to contend with when travelling for long periods of time. Two worth paying attention to are jet lag and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Jet lag occurs when you travel across time zones. This puts your normal circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, out of sync with the local time zone. When your internal clock doesn’t match up with the actual clock where you are located, you can experience daytime fatigue, sleep issues, gastrointestinal upset and a general feeling of not being well.
While jet lag can be a nuisance, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be life-threatening. DVT starts with a blood clot that forms deep within the vein, most frequently in the legs. If the clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream, it can block an artery in the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism, the most serious complication of DVT. Risk factors for DVT include having an inherited blood clotting disorder or varicose veins and being pregnant, overweight or over 50 years of age.
While you can’t completely prevent the possibility of jet lag or DVT on long flights, here are 5 things you can do to reduce your risk and be more comfortable:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before and during your flight. Instead, chug good ol’ water. It will keep you hydrated, which will help prevent jet lag. It will also reduce puffiness and bloating.
- Sleep on the plane. If it’s nighttime at your destination, try to catch some Zzz’s. Melatonin, a natural, non-prescription sleep aid, may help you relax.
- Get out of your seat. To avoid DVT, move your legs as much as possible. Walk up and down the aisle a few times if you can or stand up at your seat and move your legs periodically.
- Wear compression stockings. These will help increase blood circulation and prevent swelling in your legs during long flights.
- Go outside. Once you arrive at your destination, get outside as quickly and often as possible. The natural light will help reset your internal clock to your current surroundings.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 27, 2018
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD