No More Jet Lag

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No More Jet Lag

No More Jet Lag


Depending on where you go, jet lag, especially for those going east

-- say from the US to Europe -- can intrude on as many as six days

of vacation or business using the common guideline -- one day's

adjustment for each time zone crossed. It's even more problematic

for people beyond their mid-40s, when the body develops greater

resistance to being on the "wrong" time. Because the circadian

clock controls all body rhythms, when jet travel disrupts it, the

traveler might suffer digestive upsets and irritability (both

digestive and personality) in addition to being wide awake in the

wee hours and sleepy at lunch. Treating with sleeping pills, as

many travelers do, relieves sleep deprivation but not jet lag

symptoms during the day. The only real cure for jet lag is

resetting the body clock.




Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have

spent years studying the circadian cycle puzzle and have recently

determined a method that allows travelers to avoid many of the

symptoms of jet lag altogether. Their method is to reset your body

clock before you set foot on the airplane. To find out more, I

called Charmane Eastman, PhD, director of the Biological Rhythms

Research Lab and professor of behavioral sciences at Rush, who

leads this work. She explained that resetting the clock requires

manipulating the two key players in the circadian cycle -- light

and dark. Melatonin, the hormone associated with darkness, can also

help. By shifting the timing of light and sleep, travelers can

reset the clock a little each day. To move forward in time zones,

as is done for most eastward travel is called phase advancing...

for traveling west, it is called phase delaying. While the reset

takes some time and effort, it's worth it if it ensures more

enjoyment from your vacation or being more effective in your

business presentation.




There are three key components for successful time shifting --

gradually adjusting your sleep schedule, taking melatonin at the

right time and getting bright light, usually from a light box, at

the right time.


Melatonin: Taking melatonin is not like popping a sleeping pill...

melatonin timing here is specifically to reset the body clock.

Phase advancing requires taking 0.5 mg of melatonin about five

hours before your natural fall asleep time. (Melatonin, especially

in larger doses, makes some people sleepy so be careful about

driving after taking it.)


Bright light: Ideal amount of light exposure is two to three hours

either in natural sunlight or with a light box pointed so your face

and eyes receive the light. Getting up intermittently during that

time is okay.


With that as background, you are ready to begin phase advancing for

eastbound travel. The ideal would be to follow the method for the

number of days equal to the number of time zones you will cross,

but even fewer days will lessen your jet lag on arrival and you'll

recover more quickly. Don't worry if you lie awake part of the time

you are in bed, said Dr. Eastman. Simply remain in a darkened room

for the duration and you will help reset your body clock. Based on

a bedtime of midnight and a wake up time of 8 am here is how to

accomplish phase advancing...


    * Day one: Take 0.5 mg of melatonin five hours before your

usual bedtime (in other words, at 7 pm) and go to bed one hour

earlier, at 11 pm. Get up one hour earlier, at 7 am and immediately

begin light exposure. 


    * Day two: Take the melatonin one hour earlier (6 pm), go to

bed one hour earlier (10 pm) and get up one hour earlier than day

one (6 am) and into the light.


    * Days three, four and five: Adjust timing of bed, melatonin

and light exposure to be one hour earlier than the day before. 




Westbound travel, which calls for phase delaying, is much easier

for the body. The reason, said Dr. Eastman, is probably because the

circadian cycle is usually longer than 24 hours, stretching to as

much as 25. Phase delaying, then, is also simpler. Just set your

bedtime later by an hour or two sequentially every night for at

least a few days and get full light exposure for a few hours before

going to bed. You don't need melatonin when phase delaying. Phase

delaying is also good for eastbound travelers who are crossing

seven or eight time zones -- especially for night owls. It's easier

than phase advancing and, for far distances, just as beneficial.

However, it is difficult to schedule if you have a job with set

hours or young children.


Depending on your direction of travel, resetting the body clock can

take a lot of effort. But, when you're preparing for your once in a

lifetime trip, it may be far better to have a socially awkward

sleep schedule (going to bed really early or waking up really late)

before you go rather than miss out on any of your time at your

destination. Dr. Eastman reminded me, too, that most people don't

phase shift themselves entirely into the anticipated new time zone,

whether advancing or delaying. However, according to her, shifting

even a few zones makes travel substantially easier and more