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Jet lag – a thing of the past?

Graeme Gordon Blog

By Graeme Gordon

I truly doubt that there is anyone who read the first blog I wrote when I joined Praxity eight years ago, who will read this one. But, for this imaginary reader and anyone else who cares to peruse my thoughts, I wanted to write an update.

I had been asked by the editor of the monthly IAB journal to explain to her readers how I overcame jet lag, given that I fly a fair bit for my present post, as I had in previous roles.

In it, I explained that I extensively used the Sun and that, whenever I arrived in another country, I had two options.

If the Sun is up, I stay up until it goes down. I then have dinner, before going to bed. Even if this means extending my day to 36 or more hours. In fact, the additional tiredness makes it easier to get to sleep.

If it is night-time when I arrive at my destination, and the Sun has fully set, then I have a very light meal but only if I am truly hungry. I then go to bed as soon as possible afterwards. Although I may not be as tired as I would normally be, the travelling often ‘compensates’ by being fairly exhausting itself. It can mean a short day, but it puts me into a good rhythm from the start.

In both instances, I leave the curtains or blinds partially open. This allows the Sun to penetrate my bedroom and my consciousness as it rises, hopefully waking me once it is fully risen. This means that my second day at a new location starts at the locally ‘normal’ time. Although I also set an alarm, just in case I have found the trip too tiring. Thus, I have found it very therapeutic to be woken naturally by the Sun.

All of this I wrote eight years ago – based on personal experience rather than empirical data or research.

Recently, however, I was listening to a radio commentary about an Harvard research project on sleep and our circadian rhythms. One of the findings from the controlled clinical experiments, was that not only was using natural sunlight the best way to regulate your own circadian rhythm but also that artificial fluorescent lighting had one of the most detrimental effects on these rhythms. These lights emit the same key blue-range light that our bodies use from sunlight to run our internal clocks. So, by switching them on at night, we are fooling our bodies into thinking the Sun is still up. Warm red, orange or similar (old-fashioned) lights do not contain this blue-phase light, so don’t have the same effect. Might this be one of the reasons why gazing into a fire can be very soothing?

Anyway, I now feel that I have solid scientific proof for my little suggestion I outlined all those years ago.

Don’t be fooled, however. I am not saying that this process prevents jet lag altogether. No, what I am saying is that it strongly mitigates against the effects of jet lag.

I find It is much easier to acclimatise when experiencing a very long day while travelling west, as opposed to suffering a short day going east. Unless, of course, you travel so far east – like when I travel from UK to China and Australia – that you ‘lose’ an entire day on the journey. Then, catching up with the local rhythm can be far less of a bind.

One last suggestion: if my process only partially works for you, or doesn’t work at all, then I would highly recommend the ‘Formula 1’ crew process. But maybe more of that at a later date.