Trick your body into beat­ing the jet lag blues

Bat­tle the dreaded dis­con­nect by train­ing your­self with apps, sleep cy­cles and fast­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - KA­T­RINA CLARKE

Three and a half weeks in In­dia plus 15 hours fly­ing equalled one wicked case of jet lag for travel blog­ger Jan­ice Waugh.

“It wasn’t just a mat­ter of wak­ing up early and not be­ing able to get on a sched­ule to sleep,” said the 59-year-old, re­call­ing a mis­er­able pe­riod af­ter re­turn­ing to Toronto from a trip in 2012. “It felt flu-like ... nau­sea, tired­ness, ach­i­ness, lethargy.”

Her doctor con­firmed what she’d sus­pected: she had a nasty case of jet lag. It lasted three weeks.

Jet lag is loosely de­fined as what hap­pens to your body when your in­ter­nal clock is mis­aligned with the en­vi­ron­ment you’re in, said Azadeh Yadol­lahi, a sci­en­tist with the Univer­sity Health Net­work’s Toronto Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion In­sti­tute and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s In­sti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als and Bio­med­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing.

The in­ter­nal clock is con­trolled by cir­ca­dian rhythm, a bi­o­log­i­cal process that tells your body when to go to sleep, she said. The clock is sen­si­tive to day­light, which sig­nals to your body you should be awake, and to dark­ness, which prompts your brain to re­lease mela­tonin, a hor­mone that causes drowsi­ness, said Yadol­lahi.

There are strate­gies to combat jet lag, but it af­fects dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways and there is no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion, she said.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the more time zones you cross, the worse it gets, and trav­el­ling east is typ­i­cally worse than trav­el­ling west, thanks to our bod­ies’ poor abil­ity to ad­just to short days ver­sus longer ones, she said.

It also takes roughly one day to ad­just to a one-hour time change, said Colin Shapiro, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the Univer­sity of Toronto. This means that a visit to Mel­bourne, where the time dif­fer­ence from Toronto is 14 hours, will take you two weeks to ac­cli­mate to.

It may be a painful, no mat­ter what. Waugh, who’s trav­elled abroad tens of times since 2012, still says the In­dia jet lag is the worst she’s ever had. “Noth­ing comes close,” she said. We spoke with Shapiro, Yadol­lahi, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Abby Langer and flight at­ten­dant Do­minic Lavoie to get the ex­pert tips on how to deal with jet lag:


Mela­tonin is a hor­mone linked to our sleep and wake cy­cles pro­duced nat­u­rally in the brain’s pineal gland. Over-the-counter sup­ple­ments of mela­tonin are thought to be safe and ef­fec­tive in treat­ing sleep prob­lems in fre­quent fly­ers and travellers, though ex­perts want to see more stud­ies done. Shapiro rec­om­mends tak­ing mela­tonin to ease into travel.

His pre­scrip­tion is as fol­lows: be­fore you travel, fig­ure out the time you’ll want to go to sleep at your des­ti­na­tion, sub­tract two or three hours, de­ter­mine that time in your cur­rent time zone and take mela­tonin as per pack­ag­ing di­rec­tions at that time.

For in­stance, if you’re trav­el­ling to Mel­bourne and want to sleep at 10 p.m. there, sub­tract three hours (bring­ing you to 7 p.m.), and fig­ure out the equiv­a­lent in your lo­cal time. This means, if you’re in Toronto, you’ll be tak­ing mela­tonin at 5 a.m. Keep tak­ing the mela­tonin for five days — two days be­fore travel at the lo­cal time, and one dur­ing and two more while you’re there in the equiv­a­lent des­ti­na­tion time — to ease into the dif­fer­ent time zone. Sleep hacks Sleep­ing when it feels like 5 a.m. is tricky, but flight at­ten­dants’ jobs de­pend on it. “For flight at­ten­dants, sleep is all about safety ... You can’t be drowsy,” said Do­minic Lavoie, a CUPE com­mu­ni­ca­tions chair­per­son and flight at­ten­dant with 18 years ex­pe­ri­ence.

When flight at­ten­dants ar­rive at a des­ti­na­tion, but need to fly again 24 hours later, they do ev­ery­thing they can to bet­ter their chances of a good night’s sleep, he said. They re­quest ho­tel rooms far from loud el­e­va­tors and ice ma­chines, call in ad­vance to make sure there’s no on­go­ing con­struc­tion near the ho­tel and go to ex­tremes to keep out light, in­clud­ing us­ing pant hang­ers to pin cur­tains closed and wedg­ing chairs against the gaps where light peeks though.

“You kind of have to fool your body,” said Lavoie.

He also uses a light ther­apy de­vice caller Re-Timer to trick his cir­ca­dian rhythm into think­ing it’s still day­time dur­ing night shifts. Sleep cal­cu­la­tors Sleep apps and on­line cal­cu­la­tors can help you de­ter­mine what time you need to sleep at and when you need to ex­pose your­self to day­light, all by plug­ging in your travel de­tails.

Yadol­lahi said sleep apps could be help­ful, so long as they gen­er­ate ac­cu­rate data. Pop­u­lar apps in­clude Jet Lag Rooster and Re-Timer Jet Lag Cal­cu­la­tor. Both are avail­able for free at the App Store. Fast­ing Es­chew air­plane food al­to­gether. A 2008 Har­vard Univer­sity study pub­lished in Sci­ence Mag­a­zine sug­gests fast­ing for 16 hours can re­cal­i­brate your body’s “feed­ing” clock, a sec­ondary clock that links meal­time rou­tines to your sleep sched­ule.

This means that by with­hold­ing food, you could re­boot the clock and speed up your body’s abil­ity to ad­just to a new time zone.

“It’s def­i­nitely worth a try, “said reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Abby Langer, “but some peo­ple may find it dif­fi­cult to go that long with­out food.”

In­stead, she sug­gests bring­ing your own food on the plane. And even eat­ing at the meal­times of your des­ti­na­tion.


Dur­ing travel blog­ger Jan­ice Waugh’s trip to In­dia in 2012, she was hit with a wicked case of jet lag that lasted three weeks and felt like the flu. Ex­perts say it takes about one day to ad­just to a one-hour time change.

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