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Jet lag is history

May 06, 2022


By Mickey Beyer-Clausen
Co-founder/CEO of Timeshifter

You lie awake in a bed that’s not your own, in a strange place, unable to sleep. You struggle to keep your eyes open during the key business meeting in which you are expected to close a deal critical to your quarterly quota.

You’ve done all the ’right‘ things recommended in a recent blog post, paid more for a better seat so you could sleep in comfort on the plane, set your watch to local time, struggled through your normal 7am jog, and selected the right pillow from the hotel’s sleep program. 

The jet lag science we have all missed

Jet lag is caused when our internal circadian clock is disrupted - our sleep/wake and light/dark cycles shift too quickly for our circadian clock to keep up. Before jet travel, humans were incapable of moving through several time zones in a matter of hours, but with jet travel we do, and our bodies have not evolved to cope.

The problem is that few understand the real science of jet lag, and we do all the wrong things to reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Surprising to many, light cues - not sleep, exercise, food, or caffeine - are the only way to naturally reset the clock and address jet lag. The precise timing of when to see light and when to avoid light is the difference between a successful trip or a miserable one. Timing is everything when it comes to jet lag and doing things at the wrong time can shift your rhythms in the wrong direction, making your jet lag worse. 

Once you know the science, you can get the timing right

So how can we speed up our circadian clock’s adaptation to a new time zone? Timed light exposure - and to a lesser extent the right type and dose of melatonin supplement, at the right time - can shift the circadian clock quickly to new time zones.

Watch Timeshifter’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Steven Lockley, explain jet lag science. Dr. Lockley is a renowned expert in circadian rhythms, sleep, and jet lag. He has spent 25 years studying sleep and works with clients such as Formula 1’s elite and NASA.

Timing is everything

The challenge is to find the right timing for when to see and avoid light, take melatonin, sleep or nap, and use caffeine effectively. Solving this challenge is deceptively complicated, and can only be determined based on your sleep pattern, chronotype, and itinerary. One solution that can help with timing everything correctly is the Timeshifter jet lag app. Timeshifter was developed with world-renowned scientists, based on the latest research in sleep and circadian neuroscience. The algorithm behind the app has helped astronauts manage traveling the world to keep up with their non-stop training schedule. This same algorithm is used by Formula 1 racing drivers and Olympic athletes so they can perform at their best when traveling.

Astronauts were the first to timeshift. One of them is retired NASA Astronaut, Mike Massimino, who went on two missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, he uses the Timeshifter app when he travels internationally.

The costs of not addressing jet lag are expensive and harmful

Jet lag can be expensive. Think about it: You might spend thousands of dollars to upgrade to business class for an important work trip. Your time at the destination is expensive and valuable too – you might even check-in to a high-end hotel to get the best sleep experience. That money is wasted, however, if you don’t get the benefits of the upgrade and sleep and see light at the wrong time. Regardless of what you spend, without shifting your circadian rhythm properly, your time at your destination will be marked by fatigue, lack of focus, reduced productivity, increased errors, and other costs. And when you arrive back home, you won’t be ready for your role as a mom/dad or husband/wife, or to start work Monday morning. 

It’s not just about sleep and productivity. There are circadian rhythms in the immune system, reproductive hormones, heart and lung function, digestion, and metabolism. Gastrointestinal disruption is a common complaint in jet lag, most likely due to disruption of peripheral clocks in the stomach, pancreas, liver and intestine. Regular travelers might put themselves at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancer as has been shown for shift work, which poses similar challenges to circadian synchrony.

More than half a century into the jet age, jet travel is no longer a novelty; we take its advantages for granted, and have begun to notice and understand some of its previously hidden costs. But there is good news for the almost half a billion annual long-haul travelers: The science of jet lag is finally coming to the fore.


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