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Health Information Jet Lag

No Time for Jet Lag?

Adjust your body clock before you fly

With one free afternoon on a quick business trip to London, you’d like to see some sights. But the time difference has caught up with you, and you can barely keep your eyes open.

Do you:

  1. Take a nap
  2. Load up on caffeine
  3. Avoid this scenario altogether

At Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers have found a way to avoid jet lag by using melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone supplement, and a light box — a set of closely spaced fluorescent bulbs that sit on a desk or table and emit more intense light than a regular floor or desk lamp or overhead light — to reset your body’s internal clock.

“We’ve found a way to trick the body into thinking it’s a different time of day,” says senior study author Charmane Eastman, PhD, director of the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Rush.

Understanding jet lag
Jet lag occurs when your biological — or circadian — clock is not adjusted to a different time zone. Common symptoms include daytime drowsiness and trouble sleeping at night. Flying east typically causes more severe jet lag than flying west. Crossing five or more time zones while flying east, such as flights from Chicago to Paris or Rome, often results in difficulty sleeping. Flying west usually leads you to wake early in the morning — a condition you can prevent by gradually going to bed later and waking up later in the days before you travel, Eastman says.

Setting your body clock
“You can advance your body clock about an hour a day if you properly time the melatonin and light box use,” Eastman suggests for flying east.

Take a small dose of melatonin about five hours before you usually fall asleep, and use a light box when you get up in the morning to simulate daylight. On successive days before your trip, take the melatonin one hour earlier, go to bed one hour earlier, and get up one hour earlier each day for as many days as possible, but no more than the number of time zones you are going to cross.

By making some simple adjustments to your schedule before you leave home, you can make more of the time you have and maybe see the Houses of Parliament or take a spin on the London Eye. Most important, you can skip the nap.


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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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