Sunshine on the Back of Your Knees

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photo courtesy of patricia green-sotos in ubud, bali

It’s summer.

For some, this might involve a long trip across many time zones. Perhaps even to geography halfway around the world.

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Yellow Flower Cafe at sunset, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Because of our overseas lifestyle, I have been flying internationally at least twice a year for the past 30 years. In the beginning, I ignored the concept of jet lag and let my body find its’ rhythm by doing a lot of sleeping. It was easy for me to fall asleep on planes. When the engines revved up into humming white noise, I closed the window shade and REM sleep took over. After reaching destination, I slept some more. Eventually day and night became right again.

Recently, I made a long distance excursion from Paris to SE Asia [Singapore and Bali] then back to Europe two weeks later. Sixteen hours of flight time each way mixed with six hours of time difference.

 

Numerous tips have been written about preventing or overcoming jet lag. Some of them are actually helpful.

Things such as a good night’s sleep before a long flight, super hydrating by consuming more water than you want, and avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine. Avoid flying with a hangover [a hydration no-no], and immediately adopt the day/night schedule of your destination geography are also good ones.

Jet engines don’t make me automatically pass out anymore, so I think about my waking/sleeping hours on a plane differently now. I diligently perform ankle circles and spinal twists in my seat. I get up to walk or stand. I drink a lot of water and only one glass of wine with a meal. I nap rather than sleep for hours at a time. All are decent strategies for realigning my body clock for east to west or west to east travel. But they never quite accomplish the whole thing.

The girlfriend who travelled with me from Singapore to Bali for a yoga retreat shared two tips that were completely new to me. The first came from a limited study done in 1998. It was quirky enough that I wanted to believe it. The study concluded that jet lag could be eased by exposing the back of your knees to light, particularly sunlight, in the first days after travel.

An instant antidote I never knew! And perfectly timed as we had two recovery days in a Denpasar hotel with a pool before the retreat. We established a base of operation in poolside lounge chairs immediately after breakfast. If our knees overheated [front or back], we obligingly cooled them by sliding into the water. When boredom or cloud cover made it silly to continue this therapy, we went exploring.

 

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retreat location, ubud, bali, courtesy patricia green-sotos

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our room

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rice field view from our porch

The second jet lag therapy was more scientific to my medically oriented mind. It was the result of a hormone study by my friend’s physician brother on human cortisol fluctuations.

When I emailed him after the trip, he replied, “Jet lag is hormone dislocation.” Translation: The normal body clock [circadian rhythm] gets out of whack when you change time zones.

“Your cortisol level surges each day at awakening. It is set to your biological clock and changes only reluctantly–about one hour per day per time zone. Hence the lag.”

At the opposite end of the day, when it’s time to go to bed, the brain produces melatonin and off to sleep we go. Cortisol levels rise again with the sun. The cycle continues.

Big time zone changes mixed with fluctuating biorhythms can play out quite dramatically in young children. Our son was six-years-old the first time we flew home to the U.S. after moving to Singapore. During an early dinner in his grandparents’ home, we watched his head suddenly sag forward and plop down in the center of his plate, sound asleep in mashed potatoes and gravy.

Dr. JW suggests: “The fix [to jet lag] is in replacing the hormone [cortisol] at the right time of day. Hydrocortisone is safe and effective when you take it at 7:00AM local time for just three days. You can’t do it everyday, just with international travel. Combine that with melatonin [3-10mg, over the counter] to get you to sleep and you get it both ways. Works like a charm.”

Take 20mg Hydrocortisone for three days only, at 0700 local time, for international travel.

You need a medical prescription for oral cortisone and it may be challenging to find a physician willing to write one for jet lag, even in a small, limited dose. You could try substantiating your request by what Dr. JW says: “Simple replacement dose is not the same as a treatment dose of prednisone which overpowers your own cortisol. It’s safe and effective.”

I have yet to use cortisone therapy for jet lag, but I hope to try it. In the meantime, I researched that back-of-the-knees-light-study from the ‘90s. It was debunked, not too long afterward, as nonsense.

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On a personal note, though, for the first week after returning from Bali, I took 45 minutes each afternoon to lie on the floor by my dining room window and expose the back of my knees to sunlight. At a time of day when I really needed a jet lagging nap, I found that sunny knee time seemed to warm up my brain and nourish it, too. I became more alert and avoided the nap.

Fact or fiction, back-of-the-knee sun works for me. It’s now on my list of travel “dos”.

Regardless of “dos and don’ts” for recalibrating your body clock, you can simply live out your lag. With time, day and night cycles eventually return to “normal” wherever you are.

Just try to avoid falling asleep at the dinner table. Or make sure your meal is finished before you do…

Bonnes vacances à tous!

 

7 thoughts on “Sunshine on the Back of Your Knees

  1. Lovely, thank you.
    Michelle O’Brien – Managing Director – a good start in France – 8, rue de l’Exposition – 75007 Paris

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  2. Perfect! Great pictures! (I recognized all of the spots and shots). Of course I believe in all of the strategies! 🙂 I would note however, 20 mg of Hydrocortisone might be JW’s recommended dose but it really should be more tailored to the individual. Just like any medical therapy: “the least amount to get the desired benefits.” (Think Insulin: each person takes a different amount according to their own personal need.) Personally if I take 20 mg I would be buzzing for 20+ hours. I only take 10 mg and found that to be my perfect dose. 10 mg of Melatonin to sleep. Bon Voyage!

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  3. My initial “WOW” was for the pose…. then I was absorbed with your writing. Love your blog. I share it often and love the attention I get for sharing ( thank you very much). 🙂

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  4. I’m reading your latest while in the Kalahari Desert, where the evenings are near freezing during the South African winter. Trying to stay warm in the desert seems much like all the jet-lag strategies you share, both perspectives counterintuitive. Your title “Sunning the Back of Your Knees” captured and kept my attention, reading from beginning to end– and to think, I know the author who believes in such things.

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  5. A lovely piece with killer photography. Really like everything about this one…including the humorous ending. A perfect topic and sense of ease as the summer is now upon us. It’s an eccentric piece too, in that you are floating all these quick fixes for what is a biological issue–unless indeed sun on the back of your knees is truly that answer!

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  6. What a timely post – It surely made me smile reading it…
    We’re at my mother’s cabin, in Canmore, in the Rocky Mountains–yes, those same Rockies.
    We picked Fiona up in Calgary yesterday and headed up here to celebrate Canada Day.
    She arrived from Beijing following 10 days in Ubud at the end of the school year. Turning around, literally in a day, she said her final goodbye to Beijing and boarded a flight for Canada.
    Fiona had just gotten up and we were discussing jet lag when your post popped up.
    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this latest entry!

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