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