So, I’ve just notched up my fourth long-haul flight in the past 12 months. And since I live in southern Australia, ‘long-haul’ means pretty much going anywhere. 😉
But specifically, this year’s travel has meant one trip to the US, one to the UK, and two trips to central and eastern Europe. Which is all very nice, with interesting places to go to, people to meet and things to do. But it does take a toll on the body-clock and sleep patterns. Especially if you want to arrive in good shape and jump straight into your meeting or sightseeing, or your holiday-destination swimming pool! 🙂
Of course, I’m talking about jet lag. Jet lag is a combination of fatigue and other symptoms which is caused by travelling across different time zones, and this change in day-night pattern disrupts the circadian rhythm.
What does this mean? Well, the body is synchronised to night and day by the action of sunlight through brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), especially melatonin. Many processes are timed on this 24-hour physiological ‘clock’, including temperature, hormones, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and brain states. This changing rate of activity over each 24-hour period is called the circadian rhythm. Lack of sleep before and during travelling can also contribute to jet lag. There is no cure for jet lag, but its effects can be reduced with careful planning. I know that melatonin has been used for a number of years counter the effects of jet lag and I have friends who swear by it.
There is a lot of good general advice available: from the National Sleep Foundation on jet lag and sleep and this recent article from Entrepreneur, 6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue. I particularly like this piece from Scientific American on how to prevent jet lag. It explains how to calculate when to seek and avoid light, depending on the number of time zones crossed, the direction of travel, and usual wake and sleep times. Very helpful!
But I’m talking about using light in a more targeted way. So, how do I cope with jet lag when travelling? I now use blue light in the form of a small light therapy device. Before I acquired a neat little light set some years ago – but knew about the benefits of blue light to adjust the body’s circadian rhythms – I simply looked at anything blue when I arrived at my destination. There was plenty available at custom points, immigration, signboards etc. Now, this is purely anecdotal, of course, but I did manage to do everything I needed to without missing a beat (or falling asleep!)
On the recent UK trip, I was feeling a little ‘wonky’ at Heathrow while waiting for the connecting flight, so I took out my blue light, set it up in front of me for 20 mins and felt a lot better and more refreshed. If you have experienced jet lag, it is more than just feeling tired – although this is certainly a factor when travelling – but a feeling of disorientation as well, or at least for me. And you need to be ‘on the ball’ at least until you get there!
This goLITE BLU from Philips is what I used on this trip, because I’d misplaced my other light therapy light. An example of non-jet lag disorientation!! My model is slightly older, as I got a good deal second-hand online.
Another light therapy device for this purpose is the Re-timer which was developed by clinical psychologists. It seems to have good science behind it and I’d like to try it out in future.
What is your experience of jet lag? Do you have tips to share? Have you used light to deal with it?