It sounds plane nuts. But could dancing the Macarena at 35,000 feet help you fight jet lag?
Maybe! At least, people gave it the old college try on a record-breaking nonstop Qantas flight from New York City to Sydney last Friday. Typically, travelers from New York still have a layover in Los Angeles while heading to Oz.
Although the goal is to make this journey — a grueling 19 hours and 16 minutes — a commercial flight one day, this particular flight was for research purposes, to see the effects of such a long-haul ride on passengers, pilots and crew.
It’s not just the length of the flight that’s extreme, but also the time difference between New York and Sydney. The Australian city is a full 15 hours ahead, which can give travelers an especially awful case of jet lag, which can cause fatigue, trouble sleeping, moodiness and even stomach troubles.
So when the 49 passengers boarded the Boeing 787 Dreamliner last Friday night at 9:30 p.m., NBC reports, they were immediately thrown into Sydney time — lunchtime Saturday afternoon — to see if they could avoid the dreaded time-change drag.
Some of the methods used to keep people awake were pretty basic, like keeping the lights on for about eight hours.
Others were weirder.
The passengers, all of whom had business class seats that fold out into a flat bed, were given a spicy lunch after boarding “to keep everyone awake,” according to NBC.
A few hours into the trek, everyone did a group stretch together.
Then, several hours later, they did the Macarena.
Marie Carroll, the flight’s lead researcher, says that some of these activities were meant to trick everyone’s bodies into feeling more awake.
“Because we are flying west, we are delaying our sleep,” she tells NBC.
There’s some logic there, says Rebecca Salbu, a consultant pharmacist who has studied the current and potential pharmaceutical therapies for jet lag — particularly, with the throwback dance.
“The Macarena could be a great way to keep people exercising, awake and interested in the activity versus just walking up and down the aisles,” she says. As an added perk, any kind of physical activity is beneficial to lower the risk of blood clots, which can form from long periods of sitting down.
There’s some science to the spicy food, too — although the drawbacks might outweigh the benefits, says Salbu.
“You’re not supposed to have spicy food before bed; it can keep you awake,” she says. But the reason — “indigestion” — isn’t exactly optimal on a plane.
Of all the experiments, light may have been the most important.
“The behaviors tried, like spicy food, stretching and dancing, do nothing to shift the clock but are designed to help people to stay awake and see light at the right time,” says Mickey Beyer-Clausen, CEO of jet lag relief app Timeshifter.
Both Salbu and Beyer-Clausen say there are other ways to combat jet lag, especially when traveling across multiple time zones in a single trip. Beyer-Clausen recommends taking in low-dose caffeine (through tea, for example) to maintain alertness. He likes melatonin when it’s time to rest.
Salbu’s biggest recommendation is staying away from boozing at cruising altitude.
“A lot of people may think that drinking alcohol on a flight is going to help make them fall asleep,” she says. “Alcohol can actually reduce the quality of sleep and may end up [harming jet lag even more] when they land.”
And when you turn off the lights to fall asleep, make sure every light is off.
“No devices, no music — just sleep masks, noise-canceling headphones and whatever it is to force yourself to go to sleep,” she says.
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