Jet Lag prevention and treatment

Jet Lag Strategy

If you are a world traveler, jet lag is inevitable, but its symptoms are not. There are many strategies that can be used depending on the type of trip, how much flexibility is in your schedule and how you respond to certain stimuli like food and exercise. Here are a few concepts that you should keep in mind when considering a jet lag strategy. All of these are used by the ClockCoach platform algorithm.

 

No Shift

If you are on a short trip and can keep your schedule on home-time, you might be able to avoid shifting your Clocks, preserving your alignment. However, many local time cues will inevitably affect you. In addition to keeping your daily schedule, use bedtime melatonin (0.3mg) and bright light upon awakening as circadian stabilizers.

Pre-shift

Start shifting your Clocks in advance, 1-4 days before the flight. ClockCoach typically recommends a 1h per day pre-shift schedule. A longer or poorly executed pre-shift is a high risk for internal rhythm misalignment. This is because numerous local time cues that you might not take into account will affect your specific circadian rhythms.

Slow shift

Slow realignment while at your destination is easier on your Clocks, if your personal and social schedules permit it. For example, follow a 1h per day shift, until your regular schedule aligns with the local time. It is important to shift your normal activities and your light-dark cycle in unison.

Partial Shift

Limit the number of hours you shift based on the minimal requirements of your social schedule. For example, shift only 3h, instead of 6h, after your flight from New York to Paris, if your work in Paris can start 3h later than at home. ClockCoach offers a choice of partial-shift vs. complete shift on short trips, and makes it easy for you to follow through with it.

Fast Shift

Though the most desirable, a fast shift is a very high risk for internal misalignment unless done professionally.

Jet Lag Tactics

Together, the tools listed below can help to prevent or alleviate jet lag symptoms, as part of the strategies described above. However, they will do so only if used the right way. Incorrect timing or dosages can shift your Clocks in the wrong direction.

Food

It is important to avoid synchronizing your meals with the local time right away. Though it might seem like a good idea, this is the shortest path to internal misalignment and metabolic problems later on. In general, food should be nutritious but relatively light. You should choose eggs over bacon, baked food over fried and fish over meat. A "healthy diet" with local flavors, less processed food, more whole grain, lean meat, green and orange fruits and fresh vegetables will help you to realign well. It is also important to chew thoroughly, as food that takes longer to digest is more likely to cause internal misalignment. Try to eliminate or reduce snacks. Enjoy that seductive ice cream at the end of your meal, not between meals. Prolonged fasting is not recommended, but if you are not hungry or missed a meal indicated in your daily schedule, wait for the next meal time.

Fluids

Make sure to drink water and non-sugary juices. However, try to avoid within 2h of bedtime. You should consider sugary juices and soda as being part of a meal. Their high caloric load will impact your metabolic rhythms. You may drink coffee or tea as per your regular home habits, without overdoing and not within 5h of recommended bedtime.

Light

The timing of light exposure and its intensity are critical. Avoid relying on a generic "East or West, do-it-in-the-morning or do-it-in-the-evening" advice regarding light exposure. In a simple case of a 2-3 time zone crossing, it would work. However, a lot depends on the time difference, your chronotype and much more. For example, correct advice for a 6-h time shift would differ from the one for a 10-h shift. For two New Yorkers who wake up at 6 am vs. 9 am, correct light advice after they both fly to Paris would differ significantly. Since light can powerfully shift you in both directions, depending on the time it is used, you may want to rely on expert guidance.

 

The intensity of light exposure is critical as well. You get much more light from the Sun, even on a cloudy day than indoor lighting. A natural environment is the best. If a natural environment is not available, a brightly lit room or a special light-therapy device would suffice. Treat any bright light exposure as you would treat the Sun - do not look directly at the light source. This can damage your retina.

Darkness

Timely exposure to darkness is almost as critical for realignment as exposure to bright light. Apart from helping with sleep and "lack of light" being a major time cue, darkness allows for Melatonin production during your Clock's night. If a dark environment is not available on time, use sleep mask or dark sunglasses.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation that many of us are guilty of is a bad idea at home, but especially while traveling. Travel fatigue will take its toll, and good sleep is the best remedy for it. Following a recommended sleep schedule is at the core of any correct jet lag advice.

 

Naps, up to 40min in the middle of your active period can help. In general, avoid napping close to wakeup time or bedtime. ClockCoach often provides a specific "nap window" for each day of your trip, depending on the flight direction and other factors.

 

Though it might be difficult to fall asleep on the plane, try your best. Use the best travel pillows, sleep masks, earplugs, noise-cancellation headphones, socks rather than shoes, comfortable cloths made of natural fabrics, etc. The use of sleeping pills for jet lag is generally discouraged for a number of reasons. To name a few, their effects on your Clocks are poorly characterized and they may impede circadian realignment, if taken at certain times.  A combination of potential effects of sleep medications on respiration and reduced oxygen levels on the plane can work against you. Also, adding post-medication grogginess to travel fatigue is a bad idea. Instead, use some time-tested traditional remedies like valerian root 30 min before bedtime. Try it a few times while at home, since responses even to common remedies can differ significantly and always start with a low dose.

 

Be careful not to use something someone "just heard of". Your body and mind have enough stress from the travel itself and do not need unknown substances to make it worse. Relaxation, yoga and some of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBTi) techniques are highly encouraged. As generic advice for home and travel, sleep comes faster to a relaxed body and mind. The last thing that would help you falling asleep is worrying about not falling asleep.

Exercise

A well-timed exercise routine can help realign your Clocks while poorly timed exercise can certainly make it worse. The more muscles that are involved, the more signal of body unity is created, facilitating realignment. Choose walking, swimming, running, playing field games, tennis, etc. Do not exhaust yourself with exercise. Take into account that your body is under inherent stress while accomplishing the time shift.

Relaxation

During any travel, but especially one associated with jet lag, your organism is under considerable stress. Stress in itself can induce internal misalignment. Anything you can do to help your body and mind to reduce stress would help, even if that approach works only for you.

 

A relaxing breathing exercise would help any time, especially while outside, with fresh air in your lungs. While done on the plane, it would increase your oxygen levels. There is ~20% less oxygen there than on the ground. Make sure not to breath fast, to avoid hyperventilation.

 

Walking barefoot, whether on the grass, beach sand or clean floor, is always a good idea. Our soles have numerous nerve connections to different parts of our body and internal organs. Stimulating those in a natural and pleasant way by walking barefoot, or even in thin socks, may bring some additional sense of unity to your entire organism.

 

Take a warm shower or bath with aromatic salts. A relaxed swim in the sea, ocean or swimming pool works great. Avoid too hot or too cold water. Again, your organism is under stress, needs pampering, not pushing the limits of your cardiovascular, endocrine or immune system.

About Irina Zhdanova

Irina is the CEO and founder of ClockCoach, and an expert in Sleep Medicine and Circadian Neuroscience