Jet lag is a constant struggle for those who find themselves travelling frequently for work, (or fun). There are many ways to help your body adapt to the new time zone, whether it be 1 hour or 12+ hours.
Our body's circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle that is controlled by various systems centralizing in our brain (the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus). We feel jet lag when the internal cycle does not match up with the external environmental cues, (dark or light differences, mealtimes, etc), or if there is impaired regulation in our own bodies, (hormones, neurotransmitters, nervous system disorders, etc). Light exposure is theorized to be the strongest controller of the circadian rhythm.
The pineal gland, located in the brain, produces melatonin (with the help of serotonin, an important day-time neurotransmitter), in response to darkness detected by the retina. Melatonin is extremely important to the sleep-wake cycle, as it helps you fall asleep. In addition to falling asleep, melatonin also acts as a major antioxidant and neuroprotectant, crucial for supporting healthy aging.
How can we speed up the transition to a new circadian rhythm? Here are 5 suggestions for helping you along.
1. Light exposure - gazing at the sunlight in the mornings helps your pineal gland to stop producing melatonin, and gives your body a head start with re-setting your circadian rhythm. Sun gazing is recommended for about 2-5 minutes in the mornings in your new location.
2. Melatonin - a very popular choice for helping with sleep difficulties in a new time zone. 1-3 mg at bedtime is the starting point for taking melatonin. Opposite to the light exposure, melatonin encourages your pineal gland to shift it's serotonin to melatonin.
3. Meal timing and content - Our bodies are used to certain habits connected to our sleep-wake cycle. Fasting throughout the night, a protein-rich breakfast, and a carbohydrate-rich evening meal all help with synchronizing to the new time zone. In fact, many athletes successfully to use this strategy when travelling to compete.
4. Acupressure during your flight and upon arrival - simply pressing points along specific organ meridians will help your body adapt to a new circadian rhythm. In Chinese medicine there are 12 main meridians corresponding to various organs and times within a 12 hour clock. Pressing on the acupressure point acts as a reset button for the circadian clock.
5. Chaste Tree - or Vitex agnus-castus, an herb associated with hormone regulation, relieving PMS, and supporting progesterone, may also help with improving melatonin production and regulating circadian rhythms. If you're already taking Chaste tree and are planning a trip, it may help lessen the jet lag effects.
If you're planning a trip, and you anticipate jet lag, try employing 1 or more of these tips so you can fully enjoy your time away (especially if it's work).