Beating Jet Lag

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Jet Lag, that upsetting of our internal biological clocks whenever we leave the comfort of our home time zone, is real. All of us experience it, to a greater or lesser extent. Those of us who travel infrequently are stricken more violently than those of us who travel a lot.

But even seasoned travelers can be laid low by the effects of Jet Lag.

So, what is Jet Lag? As we move away from our home time zone, there’s a noticeable change in the day-night cycle. As we travel east, the morning sunlight comes at an earlier and earlier (to us) clock time.

As we travel West, the days seem to grow longer, and it takes “forever” for nightfall to appear.

The truth is that when we travel East, we tend to want to sleep late, and to go to bed early.

The converse is true for those of us who travel West.

This confusion between what the local clocks are showing us, and what our internal clocks are telling us, is what we call “Jet Lag”.

Jet Lag is so prevalent that almost any travel book you pick up will have recommendations and nostrums to relieve the effects of Jet Lag.

Why is it called “Jet Lag”?

Well, for one, if you travel a long distance on foot, your body’s clock has time to adjust to the shifting sunlight as you walk. Same goes for travel in cars, and also to a lesser extent, when traveling in trains and boats.

But with the advent of Jet Airplane travel, your biological clock becomes immediately overwhelmed.

Let’s say, for example, you plan a trip to visit Disney World in Florida. You fly from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida. Your planning was excellent and you arrive in Orlando at 4 PM (local time) in the afternoon. You get to you your hotel and set up shop and now it’s 6PM.

Time for dinner!

But you’re not hungry, yet: After all, in California it’s only 3PM in the afternoon!

The next morning, your hotel alarm goes off at 6AM. Time to get up, get dressed up, have breakfast and head out to Disney World. But your body screams in protest, “It’s Only 3AM in the morning! I want to SLEEP!!”

Your vacation is ruined unless you somehow re-set your internal clock.

But How?

Good News!

When I was traveling to the Orient more than I do now, we always left the States around noon local time. When we arrived in the Orient, it was usually early afternoon (their local time).

The first thing we did when we got situated in our hotel room was to drink a large bottle of water (flying can be very dehydrating), close the room-darkening blinds, and go to bed. We would sleep until 6AM local time. This long sleep period seemed to always reset our biological clocks to the local time.

Recent research(1) has shown that Jet Lag can be conquered, or at least its effects can be minimized by a very simple technique.

According to that article, our internal clocks are synchronized to the circadian rhythm of the Sun.

The authors’ recommendation is, when we reach our destination, to spend at least 15 minutes in the sunlight with our eyes open. Then, force ourselves to follow the local mealtime schedule, no matter what our internal clocks are saying.

The 15 minutes of sunlight (or if we arrive at our destination at night, 15 minutes of ‘dark’) tends to cause our clocks to start a re-synchronization reset: special light receptors in our eyes apparently have only one function – they’re not for allowing us to see better, they are there to detect sunlight falling on our retinas!

Go figure!

Something as simple as a little bit of sunlight can have such a profound influence on our well-being!

Also, by forcing our eating habits to change, our bodies have an inrush of nutrients at a time dictated by what (local time) our eyes are telling the body. This collaboration between eye and stomach appears to go a long way in re-setting our internal clocks to the local time zone, and lessening the effects of that debilitating “Jet Lag”!

Cell Phones.

Turn them off or place them face down. The blue light from the phones is distracting and will interfere with your body’s attempt to adjust. Even when you sleep!


(1) Webb, A., and Herzog, E., 2017. Adapting your Body Clock to a 24-Hour Society. American Scientist, Volume 105: 348 -355

write by Alden


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