I have just come back from a fabulous six days in Cape Town, but I always dread the flight, particularly the home run, leaving the sun to arrive back at 6am on a cold January morning is challenging! I don’t want to come back with a cold or completely knackered or with elephantine ankles, so I really try and prepare myself well for flying, especially if it’s long haul. Truly plane crashes are the least of our problems! Disruptions to our body clocks affecting circadian rhythms and sleep cause hormonal changes that can affect our health, lack of movement impedes circulation and recycled air can be challenging to the immune system as well as dehydrating.
Sticking to the sleep/dark and wake/light cycles that maintain hormone ‘normality’ is essential. So when it’s light we need to be awake and when it is dark (lights dimmed, dinner finished) we need to instigate those habits that signal sleep. During proper normal sleep our bodies produce all sorts of hormones and chemicals responsible for growth and repair, one of which is a major sleep hormone called melatonin. This is naturally produced from a tiny gland called the pineal gland that picks up neuronal messages through the eyes in response to darkness, initiating feelings of sleepiness. When it gets light in the morning the pineal is switched off and melatonin production ceases, causing us to wake up properly. Taking a melatonin supplement can really help when crossing time zones but you need to take it ONLY when you are getting ready for dark-induced sleep. Many people tend to take melatonin like a vitamin pill popping it a few times during a flight or if they want to go to sleep before night time. But in my opinion this is not a good idea; if you want to minimise jet lag and maintain your night time ‘repair’ routine, take it only when it is evening time according to the flight and then the country that you arrive in. Melatonin is also an important antioxidant, maintaining cell health and protecting us from damage and, interestingly, a lack of it is being suggested as one of the (many) factors related to Alzheimer’s Disease.
With wax earplugs (they are the best type unless they get stuck in your hair!) from Boots or simliar, a good eye mask and a great pair of headphones (I find Bose ones block out most of the sound), and a travel pillow to support your head and neck, you will be set to go.
I also like a hefty spray of magnesium to help the sore stiff muscles as well as relaxation, which I apply all over just like a body spray before and after the flight. Try Better You Magnesium Spray.
Obviously the most serious ramification of impaired circulation during flying is deep veined thrombosis (DVTs) and so moving about and doing some leg and feet exercises are essential, wearing comfortable clothes like tracksuit bottoms and of course for long trips, flight socks. Thinning the blood is important and people at risk take aspirin for this. Another way for the rest of us is to take a powerful antioxidant known as an OPC (read more). The most researched is pycnogenol, or pine bark extract, and you can read about it here in a study about Flite Tabs which contain pycnogenol. Take 100mg twice a day from two days before flying and two days after – try Life Plan Pine Bark Extract 100mg or Solgar Pycnogenol 100mg. OPCs like this have multiple benefits for other aspects of health too.
Try to build up your immune system before a long flight. Sugar is a real immune suppressant whereas fruit and vegetables are immune boosting so really looking after your diet if you fly a lot makes a big difference. Strongly coloured fruit and veg – dark green, red, blue and black, and not overcooked will do the trick. Moreover, plane food is always incredibly salty which is daft as salt really encourages water retention, so try and take a bag of potassium-rich vegetables to combat this like celery, carrots and cucumber and some magnesium filled almonds to snack on.
The pine bark/pycnogenol is great for your immune system and I take some extra zinc and vitamin C, not a huge dose but a little boost like Healthspan Zinc with Vitamin C one-a-day. I always use Vics First Defence nasal spray and so far I have never caught a cold or anything after a flight – it’s available in most chemists.
Last but not least, drink LOADS of water, and not too much alcohol. I do always have a bit of wine because for me it’s just part of the experience but not much! And I love coconut water; it’s incredibly hydrating and full of electrolytes so when I come home I have at least a litre.