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September 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 6)

Beating jet lag

About the author: 

Beating jet lag image

'Circadian dysrhyth-mia' is when the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, gets out of sync with the external time zone

'Circadian dysrhyth-mia' is when the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, gets out of sync with the external time zone. Symptoms include daytime sleepiness, disorientation, poor concentration, irritability, fatigue, gastrointestinal discomfort, headache and difficulty in falling asleep. The body clock usually re-synchronizes itself after a few days, but symptoms can

last for up to week or longer. Older people and travellers heading east are likely to suffer the most and longest (J Biol Rhythms, 2005; 20: 366-74; Chronobiol Int, 2002; 19: 743-64).

Frequent jet lag can be more serious. The frequently jet-lagged are more prone to disease than those who maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle (Curr Biol, 2006; 16: R914-6).

Happily, there are a number of proven natural ways to minimize jet lag.


One of the best ways to alleviate jet lag is to take melatonin. This natural hormone plays a major role in synchronizing the body clock with the external environment. One major review concluded that 2-5 mg of melatonin, taken at bedtime after arrival for two to four days-together with the non-drug measures listed in the box below-can minimize jet lag (BMJ, 2003; 326: 296-7). But timing of the dose is important: if taken at the wrong time early in the day, it can cause sleepiness and delay adaptation to the local time (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2002; 2: CD001520).

However, melatonin is difficult to get hold of in the UK and other European countries, although it is freely available in the US, Thailand and Singapore.

Adverse effects are rare, but some report sleepiness, headache, feeling 'heavy-headed' or hungover, stomach dis-comfort or depression. Those taking warfarin or other oral anticoagulants, and those with epilepsy would do best to avoid melatonin (BMJ, 2003; 326: 296-7). Further study is needed on the side-effects, especially delayed or long-term effects. Also, it's not known if melatonin interacts with other medicines nor how it may affect diseases.


Another way to beat jet lag is by preentrainment, which entails adjusting to a new time zone before departure. The technique is especially effective when travellers are exposed to bright light upon waking (Sleep, 2005; 28: 33-44; J Biol Rhythms, 2005; 20: 353-65).

It is generally started three days prior to travel, and involves waking up and going to bed one hour progressively earlier/later each day. If going eastward, it would mean going to bed one hour earlier than usual on day one and waking up an hour earlier and, by day three, bedtime and wake time would be three hours earlier. If travelling westward, bedtime and wake time would be one hour later than usual, with a progressive hourly increase each day.


Dr Charles F. Ehret, of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, believes that it's possible to use diet to help reset the body's clock to a new time zone. Indeed, his 'Argonne diet' significantly reduced jet lag in nearly 200 National Guardsmen deployed across nine time zones (Mil Med, 2002; 167: 451-3).

Feasting days (days 1 and 3) involves high-protein foods for breakfast and lunch, and carbohydrate-rich foods for dinner. Fasting days (days 2 and 4) allows only light meals such as salads and thin soups. On departure day, have a protein-heavy breakfast at the normal breakfast time of the destination, and have the rest of the meals according to the normal mealtimes for the destination.


Plants known as 'adaptogens' can relieve jet lag as they help the body to deal with a variety of chemical, biological and physical stressors.

One such herb, Rhodiola rosea (golden or Arctic root), can improve sleep, enhance work performance, eliminate fatigue, and reduce headaches and irritability. It can also help with poor appetite, another common symptom of jet lag (Altern Med Rev, 2001; 6: 293-302). A study of medical residents on the night shift (and, thus, with circadian dysrhythmia) found that Rhodiola greatly improved fatigue and mental performance, with no side-effects (Phytomedicine, 2000; 7: 365-71).

Other adaptogenic herbs include the various ginseng species and borage.


No-Jet-Lag, a homeopathic remedy comprising Arnica montana, Bellis perennis, Chamomilla, Ipecacuanha and Lycopodium (all in 30C potencies), was rated by flight attendants as 'good' by 43 per cent, and 87 per cent claimed that the remedy countered tiredness after arrival in a new time zone (Aviation Space Environ Med, 1998; 69: 810).

Another combination routinely prescribed by the British homeopathic pharmacy Ainsworth is a blend of Arnica, Cocculus and homeopathic Melatonin, again in 30C potencies-which has certainly worked for WDDTY editor Lynne McTaggart during her frequent travels.

Joanna Evans

What to do

- Avoid caffeine and alcohol on the plane, and drink plenty of water or fruit juice

- After a westward flight, stay awake while there's daylight and try to sleep when it gets dark

- After an eastward flight, get up in the morning, but avoid bright light, and get outdoors in the afternoon.

- Take moderate exercise-perhaps by sightseeing-when the light is bright

- Eat modestly at times that correspond to the usual mealtimes as this will help your body readjust itself

to the new time zone (BMJ, 2003; 326: 296-7).

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