x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The sky is the limit for jet lag management

From a herbal remedy to taking bags of homemade protein snacks onboard, we talk to some frequent flyers about how they deal with jet lag.

The professional body builder Zaher Moukahal. Jaime Puebla / The National
The professional body builder Zaher Moukahal. Jaime Puebla / The National

It was only an off-hand remark from a weary fellow traveller, but Andrew Criglington was paying attention.

"If you want to be rich," the man predicted, "find a cure for jet lag."

It is the unwanted baggage left from long flights, felt by so many people returning to the UAE after weeks abroad this summer. From irritability and sluggishness to being forgetful or just plain ill, jet lag symptoms can remain for days after the bags are unpacked - and few are immune to it.

That comment, made back in 1975 at a barbecue in New Zealand, where jet lag is almost unavoidable, prompted Criglington to embark on a 17-year journey of research and development.

"I thought: 'Well, why not?' I am of Irish background, so I am determined. I just started following the science."

The result is the wildly popular homoeopathic remedy, simply named No-Jet-Lag. With nearly four million in sales, the product - now in its 20th year - is widely available in pharmacies and airports in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America, Hong Kong and Singapore. The next destination is the UAE, with a launch, subject to government approval, expected before the end of the year.

Jet lag is a stubborn reminder that we are ruled by a physiological clock that is immune to the advances of the modern world.

When the body's circadian rhythm - regulating the chemicals informing us when to wake, eat and sleep - is disrupted by sudden and multiple changes in time zones, the body's initial difficulty to readjust results in feelings of physical and mental discomfort.

A wide array of studies have been undertaken to understand and treat the condition. One, conducted in 2005 at the University of Virginia in the US, found our suprachiasmatic nucleus - or biological clock - has two parts, and they fall out of sync when travelling over six time zones.

In May, the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine reported on a 2009 study that found night owls have body clocks that are more difficult to reset whereas early risers find it easier to alter their patterns. Andrew Picken, a Dubai nutritionist, believes a healthy diet and preparation can minimise the negative impacts of a long-haul flight.

Having worked with hundreds of pilots in both the commercial and private sectors, Picken says the condition cannot be totally cured but it can be managed and the effects minimised.

One important area is the traveller's blood sugar levels during the flight.

"You have to control them because when it drops very low your energy level drops," he says. "What people tend to do then is go for a very high sugar or something very high in carbs, and that gives them another peak and as a result from that the blood sugars will eventually drop very low again. This results in a blood sugar roller-coaster and by the time you get off that eight-hour flight you will be absolutely knackered."

Picken advises clients to be proactive when regulating their blood sugars by preparing their own in-flight meals, or at the very least take on board healthy snacks.

"I advise them to eat something every three hours," he says. "Snacks like unsalted nuts, seeds and low sugar fruits. I also advise to have a light meal every two hours, nothing too heavy, something like a nice clean protein, vegetables and go easy on the grain, like a light pasta or rice."

One person serious about his onboard food intake is Zaher Moukahal.

At 135 kilograms, the Dubai-based body builder regularly flies to competitions in Europe and the US. He has no qualms about bringing his own bag of meals on flight including chicken, fish and salads.

He describes his protein-heavy meals as one part of a comprehensive battle plan against jet lag, which can hinder his ability to compete.

"I have to arrive to the city at least five days before the show so I can be fully prepared," he says. "When you are jet lagged the body holds water for three or four days and that covers the muscle. It actually affects my body's definition and it will then look flabby. I won't look as hard as I need to be."

With the early arrival and healthy eating, Moukahal says he feels "90 per cent good after a sleep".

Andrew Hoy is cynical of such regimes. Based in both Dubai and England's Cambridge, Hoy is the chief executive of Execujet, a company selling private planes to a global network of billionaires.

"I do none of that," he says. "I eat as much as I want because eating on a plane is an experience to enjoy."

A former pilot, Hoy has more flight experience than most. He averages 60 days at home a year while the rest of the time he is up in the air with at least two long-haul flights (Dubai to Sydney, or London to Houston) a month.

With one-day trips to Australia the norm - a period where he conducts back-to-back meetings and business deals - Hoy prepares his body for the destination as soon as he steps on the flight.

"I set my watch to the destination immediately," he says. "If I am going from Dubai to Los Angeles, then I would set my watch back to the night prior. I would stay awake for a few hours on the plane and then sleep as much as I can before I get to Los Angeles in the afternoon."

With diabetes not allowing him to take sleeping pills, Hoy explains that his method is the most natural way of maintaining his sharpness upon arrival.

However, his system comes at the price of not being the most sociable of travel partners.

"You have to train yourself to get better at doing this," he says. "That is why I am much happier by myself than being with people. I like flying on my own."


Herbal healing: No-Jet-Lag's journey

Andrew Criglington, who was a trained economist before delving into homoeopathy to produce No-Jet-Lag, is as confident in his product as the title suggests.

Containing trace amounts of Leopard’s Bane, daisy camomile, ipecac and clubmoss, the purely herbal pills are meant to be taken at take-off and landing and every two hours in between. Sleeping passengers can stretch it to one every four hours. In both cases the pills are recommended to be taken separate from meals. Unlike pharmaceuticals, the all-natural No-Jet-Lag treats the condition while flying as opposed to taking the edge off upon arrival.

However, the man behind the product says its promise can only be realised if passengers prepare adequately for the flight.

“It can’t help if you are doing the wrong thing before you go on the flight, like drinking too much alcohol, you already have a virus or arrive to the plane stressed,” he says. “Precondition is very important; there are some things you have to do as well.”


Jet-lagged celebrities

International entertainers face a double blow when suffering from jet lag, as they must be at their best, often when feeling their worst.

• The DJ David Guetta postponed an interview with The National, citing jet lag, when he arrived to play a show at Yas Island in February. When the paper caught up with him after his performance, he said: “Jet lag is the worst thing in my life. Everything is good in my life except this.”

• “It is 4.30 in the morning? Are you serious?” Ashanti discovers the time after her performance at Yas Island’s SkyBar last November.

• In an interview a few hours before Metallica’s show at Yas Island, and just after arriving on a New York-Abu Dhabi flight, the bass player Robert Trujillo said the show must go on. “Normally, in a situation like this, you just get on stage and just do it. We also rely on the energy of the crowd. We often feed off that.”

• The US singer Jason Mraz, who played the Dubai International Jazz Festival in February, told Men’s Journal: “When you’re recovering from jet lag, it’s important you’re not disturbed. Hotel maids have this incredible urge to clean. Opening the door [while] gripping a 10-inch blade makes my point.”

• “It’s gettin’ lonely livin’ upside down/ I don’t even wanna be in this town/ Tryin’ to figure out the time zones/ Makin’ me crazy,” lyrics from the song Jet Lag by the Canadian rockers Simple Plan, who have also played in Dubai.

• Chants from the crowd helped carry the UAE metal group Nervecell through their performances during a European tour last year which consisted of 28 shows in as many days. “After the show we may feel tired again but we, as a band, just get through it,” the guitarist Barney Ribeiro said. “For us, jet lag is a war, and we know we are all in this together.”

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