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.
RECENT LEARNING ON RESETTING THE 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
PHASE ADVANCING (FOR TRAVEL WEST TO EAST)
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.
PHASE DELAYING (EAST TO WEST TRAVEL)
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