Recent research and best advice
The subject of beating jet lag comes up regularly when I talk to expats. If your annual trip home to the motherland involves one or more long flights, it can mar those precious days with family and friends. So it seemed like a good idea to find out who has been doing what in an attempt to identify the causes, and whether there’s a cure on the horizon.
Jet lag is the bane of long distance travellers the world over and affects us in all sorts of odd and insidious ways. I tend to feel a sense of unreality and general fuzziness, I’m bone-tired at odd times, wide awake when I should be fast asleep and find it difficult to make even the simplest decisions.
Jet lag can affect our performance and state of mind for weeks after we return home. Because it’s such a significant problem for the global economy, there’s been a concentrated scientific effort in recent times to pin down the causes, identify a cure or at least establish effective preventative measures. So what’s been going on in jet lag research?
- In 2006 the aerospace firm Airbus discovered that jet lag could be relieved with pulsing electromagnets (1).
- In 2007 hamsters took the stage – an experiment showed that when the creatures were given tiny doses of a certain famous impotence drug, they adjusted much better to simulated time-zone changes (1).
- In 2008 researchers from Vanda Pharmaceuticals in Maryland, USA, used more than 400 volunteers in a study into the effects of their ground-breaking drug Tasimelteon. The study found that it took jet lagged people on average 8 to 11 minutes to fall asleep compared to 22 minutes for those who took a placebo (1).
- In 2009 an innovative computer program was hailed as a way to remove the guesswork from precisely-timed light treatments designed to reset the body’s circadian clock (1).
- Melatonin was cited as the next big thing in jet lag research for a while but the latest research shows it doesn’t in fact combat the condition (2).
- During 2011 a British High School saw dramatic improvements in absenteeism, punctuality and exam results after deciding to open the school at 10am instead of 9am. Why? Apparently the change synchronised the school day better with young people’s body clocks (1).
- In April 2012 Boeing announced that their 787 Dreamliner aircraft had been designed with special technology on board designed to combat jet lag, including cleaner air and a clever lighting system that simulates sunrise and sunset. All of which, according to the manufacturer, helps deflect jet lag (3).
- This week the Daily Mail, AOL travel and several others report that a cure for jet lag may be on the way after a study by Spanish scientists identified a new function of dopamine in sleep regulation. They hope that analysing the way dopamine receptors work in more depth will deliver a better understanding of jet lag and lead to new preventative measures (3).
Sadly there’s no sure-fire cure for jet lag yet. But there are several sensible things you can do to minimise its impact, according to The Lancet.
How to beat jet lag (5) – Choose the best direction of travel
There’s evidence that traveling west to east is more disruptive, probably because our circadian period is slightly more than 24 hours, which makes it easier to stay up later than usual compared to getting up earlier.
Before you fly
Try to acclimatise gradually to the new time zone up front, for example by going to bed and getting up an hour later or earlier every day for three or four days before you travel. If you fly long distance regularly, a light box designed for sufferers of SAD can help speed up your body clock’s adjustments by mimicking sunshine.
During your flight
Break your trip into chunks and stay overnight half way. Try to sleep on the plane when it’s night time at your destination so you arrive better-synchronised.
When you arrive
Try to adapt to the local time zone immediately. If you arrive in the middle of the night, go straight to sleep. If you arrive in the morning, have breakfast even if your body is telling you it’s midnight. It’s also helpful to get some sunshine on your skin during the day.
Scientific research carries on apace, with new innovations announced regularly. There’s still no real cure for Jet lag. But following guidelines above should help you avoid the worst of it.
A final thought
For more useful information on making the move abroad, remember to download our free eBook: The New Expat, which covers medical considerations, family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements and much more. You might find our special Country Guides useful too.
If you have any questions or thoughts on the points covered in this post, please leave a comment below or connect with us @now_health on Twitter.
Image: Waldo Jaquith