About Jet Lag – The Latest Research and Recommendations

Written by Kate Goldstone

You’ve stashed your car safely, taking full advantage of convenient airport parking. You’ve had a great night’s sleep in a smart hotel airport. You’ve enjoyed a relaxing pre-flight experience in a peaceful, comfortable, well-equipped airport lounge. Your flight goes smoothly. But as soon as you get to your long haul destination, jet lag hits you like a speeding train.

Suddenly you’re all woolly and weary. You can’t think straight. You’re half asleep all day, wandering around in a dream world, and full of life at night when everyone else is fast asleep. It’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings you can have short of actually being ill, and it’s perfectly capable of spoiling the first few days of your precious holiday or making that business meeting horribly challenging when it should be straightforward.

Let’s face it. Jet lag is awful. We could go into the causes and symptoms of jet lag but it has been done many times before. We think it’s more helpful to cut to the chase, look at the latest scientific research and identify the current best advice about returning to normal as quickly as possible.

Jet Lag

Jet Lag Effects – from caribbeanweek.ca

What is the latest research on jet lag?

New findings reveal more about how our body clock works

In March 2014 Science Daily reported on research by a team at The University of Manchester, who had identified a mechanism governing how our body clocks react to changes in the environment. The discovery has been tipped to eventually deliver a solution to the health effects of jet lag. The team found that an enzyme called CK1epsilon controls how well or poorly our body clocks adjust and reset when faced with changes in light and temperature.

As Dr David Bechtold, the team leader, says about body clocks, “At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24 hour timing. Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information.”

Apparently mice without the enzyme managed the change to a new lighter or darker environment, similar to the effect of jet lag, much faster than normal. The finding highlighted the potential of special drugs which suppress CK1epsilon to speed up the body clock’s adaptation to new environments much faster as well as minimising the metabolic disturbances jet lag is notorious for. As the team’s research progresses, we might eventually have the knowledge and drugs needed to enhance the body clock’s ability to deal with the condition.

This is great news considering jet lag is now seen as much more than merely uncomfortable and inconvenient. It is becoming clear that body clock disruption is responsible for increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes. And research revealed in January 2014 is even more disturbing, with jet lag seemingly responsible for disrupting the function of our genes. As Forbes reports:

“Researchers at the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey in the UK interrupted study participants’ sleep at regular intervals over three days, taking blood samples to monitor gene function. The findings: Daytime sleeping disrupted the rhythms of up to one third of the participants’ genes.”

Jet Lag

Jet Lag – from goworldtravel.com

A new jet lag app for your mobile

April 2014 saw a jet lag mobile app released by a team of mathematicians from the University of Michigan, and it’s a revolutionary beast. It works using a set of previously unknown shortcuts to help the jet lagged adjust their body clocks to new time zones much more quickly and efficiently.

In the scientists’ view, overcoming jet lag is a maths problem, so they set about calculating the optimal way to adjust across time zones. The resulting iPhone app is called Entrainment, the word the scientific community use for synchronising circadian rhythms with time. The app makes use of the premise that light, especially in the blue wavelength, is the signal that affects our body clocks most and is the main protagonist in regulating our circadian rhythms.

The body clock’s fluctuations do more than tell us when to eat, sleep and wake. They actually regulate processes at a cellular level. So any help you can get to reset your inner clock quickly will benefit your entire being, not just affect how sleepy or awake you feel. Best of all, the app is free and you can download it at the Entrain website.

What about Melatonin?

Sadly the latest research reveals Melatonin doesn’t affect jet lag. Any benefit you may have felt is almost certainly down to the amazingly powerful placebo effect, where your strong belief that it’ll work makes it actually work… but only to a certain extent. Even worse, taking the stuff at the wrong time can make your jet lag more acute than ever.

from melatoninpills.co.uk

from melatoninpills.co.uk

As the nojetlag website reports:

“257 Norwegian doctors who travelled to New York for five days each took either 5 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime, 0.5mg at bedtime, 0.5mg taken at various times each day, or placebo (false pills) to be taken on the first day of travel and continued for five days.

The doctors then rated their jet lag symptoms on the day they travelled from New York to Oslo, Norway, or 6 hours eastward, and for the ensuing six days in Norway. The results were compared to earlier baseline measurement of jet lag taken when the doctors travelled to New York.

The study showed that the different doses of melatonin were no better than placebo at preventing jet lag symptoms, said author Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York. “I personally have stopped taking it when traveling.” he said.

In the study, about 63% of all participants reported at least moderate jet lag on their first day back in Norway, followed by improvements in the next five days. The most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, daytime sleepiness, decreased daytime alertness and trouble concentrating or thinking clearly, researchers report.”

Other popular folk remedies

People do all sorts of weird and wonderful things to combat jet lag, from messing around with pressure points to aromatherapy and even giving the area behind your knee light therapy. But there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that any of them work.

Is there a reliable method to reduce or prevent jet lag?

Joy of joys, it looks like there just might be. And it’s all about controlling your body’s exposure to light and dark.

According to Helen Burgess and her team at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Centre, jet lag can be prevented altogether by ‘phase shifting before departing’, in other words seeking and avoiding light at the right times. But how?

You can seek out light by either going outdoors in sunlight or standing in front of a lightbox, which you can buy in the shops. You can avoid light by staying out of the sun and wearing dark glasses. But how do you know when to seek light and when to avoid it?

Healthy Sunlight

Sunlight – from torontosun.com

It depends on how many time zones you cross, what direction you travel and the times of day you usually go to sleep and wake up. If that sounds like a nightmare, don’t worry.  You can do the calculations online automatically using a jet lag calculation service like jet lag rooster. The key is to control your exposure to light and dark, the only real way to adjust to a new time zone effectively and quickly.

What about your experiences?

Do you have any cool tips to pass on about dealing with jet lag? If so we’d love to hear them.

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