Please Explain: Jet Lag

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As summer nears its close, many of us are flying away to get our last taste of summer vacation, but nothing ruins a good jaunt to Europe like a bout of jet lag. In fact, jet lag was once considered such a problem that Congress set up a special unit at NASA devoted to studying the condition. Joining us to explain why jet lag occurs and how we can prevent it are Dr. Kevin Gregory, a former scientist at the NASA Jet Lag Center and the current senior scientist at Alertness Solutions Inc., and Dr. David M. Rapoport, Director of the Sleep Medicine Program at NYU Medical School.

Tips For When You Travel:

  1. Go West. Travelling affects us more when travelling east than when travelling west. This is because our circadian clocks are slightly longer than 24 hours, so we don’t mind as much staying up late versus waking up extra early.
  2. Melatonin. You can take the hormone melatonin, although because it is not regulated by the FDA, getting the correct dose is difficult. Generally taking half a milligram of the hormone around two hours before you go to sleep will be helpful.
  3. Use light. The best way to monitor your jet lag is to use light to drive your own melatonin. So if you’re waking up extra early because you’re going from New York to California, do not go outside! Try to limit your exposure to sun at the wrong times so that your melatonin is released at the right time.
  4. Sleeping pills are also good. Sleeping medicine is maybe more effective – three days of taking sleeping pills at the time when you want to go to bed in the new time zone will bring you into sync at around one time zone per day.
  5. The Kissinger Strategy. You could also start planning for your trip by going to bed at a slightly earlier or later time depending on when you’re travelling, so you can condition your body to prepare for the time zone to which you’re heading. This is what Henry Kissinger did.
  6. Stick to your old schedule if it’s a short trip. It takes up to a week or sometimes more to get in sync with a new time zone. So if you’re a businessman or businesswoman who is only travelling for 24 or 48 hours to a new time zone, it’s sometimes better not to shift. This means trying to avoid sunlight and also scheduling meetings as close to your home schedule as possible.
  7. Sunglasses. Sunglasses can help train your body by preventing the bright bursts of sunlight that may alter our clocks in the wrong way. This is especially useful in countries during which there is too much light—like Iceland in the summertime.
  8. Keep your routines – just shift the time you do them. Eat your meals at the correct hour in the time zone to which you’ve travelled – don’t wait until you’re hungry. This is the same with exercise – attempt to alter your daily routine as little as possible, just do it on the correct time zone.
  9. Make sure to get a good amount of sleep before you travel. If you’re sleep deprived before you fly, it will make your jet lag worse.
  10. And if all else fails…Viagra has been shown to reduce the effects of jet lag in hamsters.