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 caused by travelling across different time zones. The change in your 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 light and avoid light, depending on the number of time zones crossed, the direction of travel, and your usual wake and sleep times.
Using light as therapy
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 is what I use …
- A Molimed torch. It’s easy to carry with me and I use Indigo blue on closed eyes. It’s not dangerous to do this. There are a number of therapies that use this method of light on the body. Syntonic optometry uses light through the eyes, Also research into blue light – jet lag, circadian rhythm, sleep – use this as well.
- GoLITE BLU from Philips is another option. It’s not as portable as a light torch or the Molimed but useful nonetheless. You should use it on arrival in the hotel or at home. My model is slightly older, as I got a good deal second-hand. Note: this product is now discontinued but it is worth looking online to see if there are any available for sale.
Another light therapy device for this purpose is the Re-timer which was developed by clinical psychologists. And it is a product of Flinders University, here in Adelaide, which is fantastic. It certainly seems to have good science behind it and I’d like to try it out in future.
References & further reading:
- ‘Pulsing blue light through closed eyelids: effects on acute melatonin suppression and phase shifting of dim light melatonin onset’
- ‘You asked: How can I Prevent Jetlag?’ in Time Magazine.
- ‘How to Prevent Jet Lag’ in Scientific American.