Anyone who’s flown across the Atlantic or further will know the feelings of exhaustion that can overwhelm you upon your arrival. Why does jet lag happen and is there any way to minimize its effects?

Jet lag was first brought to the public’s attention by the pioneering US aviator Wiley Post, who experimented with different regimes to break his eating and sleeping habits. After flying around the world, he wrote the book ‘Around the World in Eight Days’, which discussed his attempts to reduce jet lag. Why does air travel affect us in this way?

The earth is divided into 24 time zones: time changes by one hour for every 150 degrees of travel east or west of the Greenwich meridian. Our bodies are programmed to be active and alert during the day and to sleep at night. Travelling across the earth’s time zones disrupts these natural rhythms, resulting in extreme tiredness.

Other symptoms can include insomnia, stomach upsets, aches and pains, and a sense of disorientation. Farrol Kahn, a medical author and director of the Aviation Health Institute, agrees that jet lag disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms and is caused by long-haul travel, but adds another important factor is the lower level of oxygen in airplane cabins. Commercial airlines pressurize their cabins equivalent to the pressure of 8,000 feet above sea level. There is 20-25% less oxygen at this pressure than normal. Extended travel under these conditions deprives the individual of their regular intake of oxygen.

There are also many airborne contaminants in an airplane, and the body needs to use more of its oxygen reserves to eliminate these toxins. Lack of oxygen, in conjunction with these toxins impairs both physical and mental performance. If you want to get more out of the start of your vacation or business trip, it’s important to be well rested before you embark, and well oxygenated upon your arrival. Oxygen bars are now springing up at many airports throughout the world. It is well known that oxygen is a natural stress reliever and will also boost your energy levels.

Symptoms of jet lag

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach upsets
  • Aches and pains
  • Disorientation

Jet lag does not need to ruin the beginning or end of your holiday. With a little planning, and a stop at the airport’s oxygen bar, you can minimize the adverse effects of flying.