What is jet lag?
Time zone adjustment using pulsed light
Other prevention / remedies / cures / treatment for jet lag
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is tiredness, disruption and insomnia caused by travelling through one or more time zones. The shortening or lengthening of your day forces you into a new sleep-wake cycle. The circadian rhythms that dictate times for sleeping, eating, hormone regulation and body temperature variations are upset by your new location. To the degree that the body cannot immediately realign these rhythms, it is jet lagged.
You may want to wake at night or sleep during the day until you adjust to the new time zone. Other symptoms of jet lag can include fatigue, disorientation, irritability, poor concentration, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, constipation or headaches.
The rule of thumb it that it takes about one day to adjust to a one-hour time zone change. Most people need to cross three or more time zones to feel the effects of jet lag. Travelling from west to east is usually more disruptive, as you have a shortened day and have to get up earlier the next morning. Recovery is typically 1 day per eastward time zone, compared to 1 day per 1.5 westward time zones.
Aerotoxic Syndrome is any illness caused by exposure to contaminated air in jet aircraft. All passenger jet aircraft except one new model use bleed air to provide fresh air for those inside. Bleed air is compressed air taken from the compressor stage of the jet engines and then piped through to the inside of the aircraft. The air does go through a filter, but a small percentage of some extremely toxic jet engine contaminants still get through. Worse, there are rare fume events in which an engine seal leaks or something else goes wrong. A fume event can give a major toxic dose to passengers and crew. Details and what to do at aerotoxic syndrome.
Time zone adjustment using pulsed light
A paper (1) published in 2016 by researchers at Stanford University asserts that flashes of light can quickly adjust for the effects of jet lag. The researchers subjected the study's participants to brief, frequent flashes of light while they slept, and this seemed to alter their natural circadian rhythms and trick them into thinking they were on a different schedule.
It was even more effective if the travellers were exposed to an hour of intermittent light flashes while sleeping in the early morning, the night before their flight. Their bodies were somehow fooled into thinking the sun had risen three hours earlier.
Other scientists have previously experimented with exposure to continuous light to try to alter the body's circadian rhythms. But according to the Stanford researchers, continuous light shifted a person's internal clock by just 36 minutes. In contrast, a two-millisecond flash of light every 10 seconds advanced the participants clocks by an average of nearly two hours, and sometimes more.
The Stanford team is developing a new sleep mask with LED lights for the consumer market. You will be able to program it with your smartphone.
Prevention / remedies / cures / treatment for jet lag
- Get plenty of rest and exercise, and eat a healthy diet before travelling. Try to get 8 hours of sleep per night in the week before departure. If you are in good shape you will adapt to the new time zone more quickly.
- Light control. After you arrive at your destination, take a walk in daylight to help your body adjust. The daylight entering your eyes creates the hormones that help make this adjustment.
Avoid bright light at night before you go to bed, and especially light in the blue or ultra violet spectrum. Blue light and harsh white light is typical of fluorescent lights, TV, smartphone and computer screens. Gentle red or amber-coloured light at night will disrupt your sleep the least. At night and in the evening adjust your TV, computer and phone so that their screens have more red and less blue, and turn down the brightness. Several apps are available that do this automatically. Wear amber-coloured glasses that block blue light in the hours before bedtime to assist the natural production of melatonin. Blue or bright light in the evening and at night disrupts the Circadian rhythm, so important for the healthy functioning of many regular (time dependent) body systems.
- Fast or under-eat during a long flight, and eat your main meal after landing. Changes in food consumption may have an even stronger impact on circadian rhythms than light does. This kind of fasting is particularly effective if you are already following a one-meal-per-day protocol.
- Earthing or grounding. Keep your body in contact with the earth for a number of hours after arriving at your destination. The best thing you can possibly do is go for a swim in the ocean, and then lie on a damp towel on the beach. If you have access to a grounded, as opposed to insulated swimming pool, this is also good. Go for a long walk bare foot, sit or lie on the ground, preferably slightly damp.
- Drink plenty of water before and during the flight to prevent dehydration.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol while travelling, as they disrupt your sleep schedule.
- If possible, travel during the day. It is best to arrive at your destination in the evening and then stay awake until bedtime.
- Adapt to the destination time zone in advance. Gradually adapt your daily routine of eating and sleeping three to four weeks before departure.
- If you are only going to be in your destination for a day or two, consider maintaining your previous daily schedule. Sleep and eat according to the time at home.
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1. Raymond P. Najjar, Jamie M. Zeitzer.
Temporal integration of light flashes by the human circadian system.
J Clin Invest. 8 February 2016. doi:10.1172/JCI82306.