Going down, now for the lag…
Cause of Jet Lag
The 24-hour physiological cycle programmed by a human body’s biological clock is known as the Circadian rhythm and includes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin being pumped around your system late evening, deep sleep at about 2: 00 am and melatonin halts production around sunrise.
On long-distance flights across various time zones this routine is disrupted. Lag depends on the number of time zones and whether the flight is towards the East or West. West is best because travelers gain time and extending the day is easier as delaying sleep comes more naturally than forcing the body into earleir sleep. The body clock gets out of sync with destination time, leading to disorientation, disturbed sleep, irritation, dizziness and general depression.
Some studies estimate that recovering from Jet Lag takes about one day for one hour of flying time, and in our experience as you get older it gets less easy to recover. However, it is not difficult to drastically reduce the effects of lag with a little care and planning.
Prevention and Cures for Jet Lag
Do the light thing
One efficient approach is to light the plane with LED bulbs that give off a blue (early morning) light (as all those interior cannabis growers will know) and possibly to switch them to red/orange (sunset colours) to artificially induce sleep. This is an option that has been used on private flights. Alternatively use this lighting on arrival (or visit your friendly neighbourhood grower).
Sleep glasses use the same principle, controlling how much light enters the eye to influence when melatonin is produced, advancing or delaying sleep patterns as appropriate. Worn at specified times, sleep glasses can start to adjust the wearer’s circadian rhythm closer to their destination time even before they get on the plane.
There are some new smartphone apps that suggest times to find or avoid light on arrival depending on direction of travel and time zones crossed. An example is Entrain, a 2014 iPhone app that gives users tips on the best times for exposure to bright light after arrival.
BBC jet lag research
According to BBC research the very best way to avoid jet lag is to not eat at all during your flight. Then, on arrival, eat your first meal at the appropriate time for a meal according to local time. Your body clock will consequently be re-booted to local time! Of course the downside is you miss out on all that delicious airline food (hah! ).
Although the BBC didn’t mention it, we presume that restricted caffeine and alcohol intake on the flight will also be essential.
Eat a light meal containing plenty of carbohydrates and greens before travelling.
Try to get a flight with no/few stops as the changing cabin pressure exacerbates jet lag and stopovers will interrupt your rest.
*Set your watch to destination time as soon as you board the plane.
*Try to sleep, or at least rest, when destination time is night (bring/use ear plugs and an eye mask), and stay awake if it’s daytime. This means on the plane and on the ground when you arrive. No long siestas!
*Eat meals according to destination timing. If you need to sleep according to destination time then choose carbohydrates, if staying awake go for proteins and avoid the carbs. Eat lightly. Drink lots of water.
*Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, as these maintain departure body time. OK, OK, have one beer or Bloody Mary on takeoff if you insist, but that’s it. Drink lots of water as dehydration lowers your general health barriers to in-flight bugs, in addition to inhibiting body clock resetting.
Get some exercise on the plane. This helps not only with jet lag but other health factors too, such as DVT.
Press a pen point on the underside of your big toes during the flight. This apparently stimulates appropriate acupressure points.
This requires some effort but definitely helps diminish lag and permits better functioning sooner, especially important if your foreign stay is short.
Find out how many hours ahead/behind your destination time is. If the place is a few hours behind your home time then start to stay up later than usual a few days before the flight, and get up later too. If it’s ahead of home time then start going to bed earlier and of course get up earlier. Try this for at least an hour per day for three days before the flight. This system really works.
*Get out in the daylight when you arrive and for the first few days, preferably without sunglasses. Let the body know it’s in a new place. Walk/exercise. If you need to trigger sleep hormones start wearing dark glasses early and/or keep your room dark. This will encourage your body clock to make the change.
*Do not consume caffeine for up to 10 hours before bedtime and no alcohol 2 hours before.
Melatonin is available over the counter in USA and other countries, but not even on prescription in UK, so get it elsewhere (like Ireland, Guernsey or many other countries).
Start taking it before bedtime a couple of days before travelling, then before destination bedtime on the flight, and before bedtime at your destination – for a couple of days if necessary.
Take with a short-term sleeping pill if necessary.
Melatonin is best not taken by people with health problems such as auto-immune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Seratonin 5HTP is an alternative to Melatonin and should be taken from a week before the flight, as it needs time to take effect.
Arnica is a homeopathic remedy for jet lag.
Aspirin: a very small dose of a blood-thinning agent such as aspirin taken for three days (before, during and one day after the flight) would not only partially counteract AMS symptoms, but also help with potential DVT, but check with a doctor on the advisability of this in your case.
Modafinil is a prescription stimulant that may help perk you up if speed is of the essence.
There is another possible factor causing body dysfunction, at least in some cases, Acute Mountain Sickness.
Medical staff attached to aircraft manufacturers Boeing performed tests in 2007 on a group of healthy volunteers, putting them in low-pressure chambers that simulated conditions when flying at the usual high altitudes. At these times the cabin pressure is equivalent to being at an altitude of up to 8, 000 ft. Boeing reported that 7. 4% of the test subjects suffered some symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) – light-headedness, headaches, shortness of breath, backache and impaired coordination.