Use Light Exposure to Fight Jet Lag
- Exposure to light leads to advances or delays in your circadian rhythm, known as phase shifts, which can cause the symptoms of jet lag to disappear
Exposure to light leads to advances or delays in our circadian rhythm, known as phase shifts, which can cause the symptoms of jet lag to disappear.
Typically, exposure to light early in the morning causes a phase advance, which leads to earlier waking. Light exposure at bedtime will lead to a phase delay, or later wakening.
Researchers explain in the journal Sleep Medicine Clinics: “Flying east requires a phase advance of the circadian clock, and flying west requires a phase delay. For example, when it is early in the day in the US, it may already be approaching nighttime in Europe. Common language for those in the US is to say that Europe is ahead of us, and when you arrive there you have to set your wristwatch ahead by moving the hands later.
However, your circadian clock has to be reset earlier, and the technical term is a phase advance.
For example, if you flew east 7 time zones (e.g., Chicago to Paris) and expect to go to sleep at midnight in Paris, you are really trying to go to sleep at 5:00p according to the time of your circadian clock, which is still on Chicago time (CT).
You are trying to go to sleep earlier, to advance the time of your sleep, and your internal circadian clock has to phase advance to realign with your advanced sleep schedule and the new local time.”
When traveling East, exposure to bright light in the morning, and the avoidance of bright light at night, should help to minimize jet lag, while the opposite holds true when traveling West.
However, it gets complicated when you travel through 6 or more time zones, which, as pointed out by Dr. Michael Greger, a nutrition expert, physician and founder of NutritionFacts.org, may confuse the body’s clock, causing it to adjust in the wrong direction.
He offers the following cheat sheet to remember if you’ll be embarking on long-distance travel: “If you fly from LA to London, 8 time zones East, you woul davoid light between 6:00a. and Noon local time, and expose yourself to light between Noon and 6:00p local time, and the rest of the day, it does not matter and will not affect you either way …On subsequent days, the local times of light avoidance and exposure need to be advanced [earlier] by [one to two hours] each day, until light avoidance coincides with [when you’re sleeping].”
If you need to avoid light exposure in the morning, consider wearing a pair of blue light-blocking glasses with amber lenses, which will help to prevent your melatonin levels from plummeting, this cannot be achieved via regular sunglasses. Blocking blue light is known to help regulate your internal clock to control sleep pattern.
According to a Y 2002 Cochrane Database review, people who traveled across 5 or more time zones and took melatonin close to bedtime at their destination experienced less severe jet lag symptoms compared to placebo.
You can also get some melatonin via your diet.
If you prefer to use food, pistachios are the most melatonin-rich nut, and can provide measurable amounts in just 2 nuts. Eating a small handful of them before bed could give you a meaningful melatonin boost.
On Melatonin Rich Foods
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