Please Explain: Jet Lag

Friday, August 27, 2010

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.


Kevin Gregory and David M. Rapoport
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Comments [31]

Sherman Kane from Queen, New York

Can a battery-powered clock have jet-lag? This may sound nuts, but my wife and I just returned from Europe and the small batter-powered alarm clock we travelled with ran BACKWARDS. This only happened for a few hours. I reset the clock and now it is running normally. We both saw this. My wife said she remembers this happened before on a previous transatlantic trip. Are we hallucinating? Can flying in the baggage compartment of a transatlantic jet affect the operation of a clock? Is this related to the phenomenon of water flushing in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere?

Aug. 27 2010 02:58 PM
john from Atlanta from urgent!

what's all this have to do with the N-train?

Aug. 27 2010 02:00 PM

Bibbby from NY - Dahling - you poor thing! Have you never been abroad on an airliner?

Aug. 27 2010 01:56 PM
Edward from NJ

Any specific tips for young children with jet lag?

Aug. 27 2010 01:55 PM
db from new york

what about excretory/waste cycle? is that controlled by or tied to circadian cycle? when i travel i find i have to wake up to pee in the middle of night! and i get constipated. (sorrry if TMI!!!)

Aug. 27 2010 01:54 PM

I fly to North Africa every summer and find that setting my watch on local time and forgetting about what time it is back home, I have no problems. The first day I am very
tired since I have been up for 30+ hours (not being able to sleep much on the plane) but I stay up late (no napping) and go to bed at around 10-11 pm. Next day I wake up at my usual time and from then on am on local time. Coming home is no problem - enjoy getting some extra time.

Aug. 27 2010 01:53 PM
Buck Thomas from Upstate New York

In addition to the chemical damage itself, crystal meth typically results in the user staying awake for extended periods, even several days at a time. What are the adverse effects due to this lack of sleep, and are such effects reversible(say, by simply sleeping extra long when you finally do crash back to earth)?

Aug. 27 2010 01:53 PM
john from toronto

what about heat?
i read that u get more slow wave sleep if your brian is heated up a bit during exercise
makes sense for hot yoga but if travelling better to have a hot shower before bed time?

Aug. 27 2010 01:52 PM
JORGE from Guatemala

hi, I live in Guatemala, please Sayd Hello to me.

Aug. 27 2010 01:52 PM
Jack from ny

I often experience diarrhea with jet lag, especially traveling west.

Aug. 27 2010 01:51 PM
Harvey from ny

DON"T eat the meal

Aug. 27 2010 01:50 PM
Anne from Harlem

Why is it that jet lag is so often accompanied by constipation? (ugh, sorry folks). Traveling is such a drag for some folks because disruption of this routine disrupts bodily functions.......

Aug. 27 2010 01:49 PM
Langman from ny

I heard that yoga works.

Aug. 27 2010 01:48 PM
Jumm from ny

Your baby needs to wear sunglasses.

Aug. 27 2010 01:46 PM
Rob from ny

I'm doing a one man show on transmeridian anachronism called "NaCK.""

Aug. 27 2010 01:46 PM
Bibbby from ny

I don't get it. YOu arrive at your destiantion and its 4 for you or wahtever so just start or continue your day or whatever ggo to sleep when tired makes no sense. seems bogus this whole thing.

Aug. 27 2010 01:44 PM
Fay from Brooklyn

It's not exactly jet lag question, but I was wondering what the physical and mental consequences, both short and longterm, may have been for the Chinese performance artist (I believe the name is Tehching Hsieh) who punched a clock on the hour, every hour, for one year.

Aug. 27 2010 01:44 PM
Joe from ny

My cousin was a Jet Pilot for over 13 years on a commercial airliner. She said that engine thrust depending on velocity and direction had an effect and pilots would routinely accelerate or deccelerate depending on direction to reduce jet lag effects for themselves and the crew. Also, she said the crew would often just not sleep overnight to counteract the effect.

Aug. 27 2010 01:42 PM
Cesar Mendes from NYC

My protocol when i go east to Portugal (5 time zones)
On the plane i HAVE to sleep and take two sleeping peels, as soon as i arive early in the norming i have to take a nap. during the day Red bull all day, and for the follwoing 4/5 days melatonin before i sleep (it works for me, at least i think so)
Going west is not so bad, by 5pm i get really sleepy and take coffe or red bull at worst

Aug. 27 2010 01:41 PM
Debbie from Woodmere, NY

My father tells me while traveling for 11 hours changing time zones, to take my shoes off and put paper bags on my feet - that allows him not to have jet lag. Is this true?

Aug. 27 2010 01:39 PM
Bill from ny

I want this letter to serve as an oasis of sanity in jet lag's desert of foolishness. In the first place, in public, jet lag promises that it'd never increase subservience to its monolithic engine of Bonapartism. In private, however, it secretly tells its protégés that it'll do exactly that. I think we've seen this movie before: It's called Business as Usual for jet lag. Uncivilized, abhorrent mouthpieces for repressive, baleful ethnocentrism may possess a mass of "knowledge", but their brains are unable to organize and register the material they have taken in. When we tease apart the associations necessary to jet lag's meddlesome demands, we see that we need to call for proper disciplinary action against jet lag and its expositors. Why? Because of what's at stake: literally everything.

Aug. 27 2010 01:37 PM
Michael Wenyon from Jackson Heights

What about new research that suggests fasting for 16 hours to 'unset' your clock, followed by a big meal in your destination at an appropriate time of day for a big meal in that time zone, to reset your clock? I travel to Europe a lot and I find it works: I get over the jet lag going to Europe in two days.

Aug. 27 2010 01:34 PM
LaSonga from ny

My friend had acclimated desynchronosis and said circadian rhythms only occurred with transmeridian jet lag, is that true?

Aug. 27 2010 01:33 PM
jj from ny

does it matter which direction you fly in

Aug. 27 2010 01:27 PM
Geoffrey Weg from New York, NY

I recently travelled to Japan with my family for an 8 day (grueling) vacation. We faced hardly any jet lag when we arrived in Japan (we flew from NY). But when we arrived back in NY, we were all very jet lagged for nearly a week.

A friend who travelled to Asia many times told me that the jet lag is always worse when traveling from Asia to NY. Is this true? If so, why is this the case?

Aug. 27 2010 01:06 PM
Tom from Upper West Side

Avoid eating on flights that cross several time zones. Eating only reinforces the body's inner clock, making it more difficult to adjust to the time zone in which you arrive.

Aug. 27 2010 01:03 PM
Lennie Florescue from Manhattan

I am curious as to the factual background of Ms. Weems's comment. Can you give me a reference I can read? Thanks.

Aug. 27 2010 12:59 PM
Tony from Santa Clara

Does taking melatonin work? If so, how?

Are there any side effects or dangers?

Aug. 27 2010 11:03 AM
ny from ny

Why would this not work: make people go directly to sleep when they got off the plane then start your day the following am

Aug. 27 2010 10:39 AM
Marianne Weems from East Village


Dear Leonard Lopate and Team,

I happened to hear this morning that you'll be covering jet lag on the show today. I am actually doing a production about JET LAG in NYC this fall. My multimedia theater company tells a TRUE story about a woman and her grandson who traveled back and forth across the Atlantic in 167 times consecutively until she died of jet lag! v It is a theater collaboration with the celebrated architects Diller + Scofidio at Peak Performances in Montclair. PLEASE mention it on the show if you get a chance!

Aug. 27 2010 08:47 AM
Marianne Weems from East Village


Dear Leonard Lopate and Team,

I happened to hear this morning that you'll be covering jet lag on the show today. I am actually doing a production about JET LAG in NYC this fall. My multimedia theater company tells a TRUE story about a woman and her grandson who traveled back and forth across the Atlantic in 167 times consecutively until she died of jet lag! v It is a theater collaboration with the celebrated architects Diller + Scofidio at Peak Performances in Montclair. PLEASE mention it on the show if you get a chance!

Aug. 27 2010 08:34 AM

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