How To Beat Jet Lag, According To Science

How To Beat Jet Lag, According To Science

I’m sure that every single person reading this, will have had the same experience: you’ve just got off your long haul flight from your home country, to your exciting and new destination. You’re buzzing, you can’t wait to go and explore. You hop into a taxi/bus/tuk tuk, that will take you to your hotel where you plan to freshen up, and get out exploring. However, disaster strikes! The gentle bumping as the vehicle rides over who-knows-what has lulled you into a sleep that you could never dream of actually having at the appropriate time. The taxi driver wakes you up by prodding you, a slightly concerned look upon his face. You feel monumentally shit. What happened to the excitement, the energy? Why do you suddenly feel as though you’ve been hit by a bus? Where is the bed? Get me to the bed, pronto! Beat jet lag!

Ah yes, the infamous jet lag, the ultimate bitch of Biology. Now, I thought that I had getting over jet lag DOWN. I never seemed to suffer, I planned accordingly, and would maybe feel bad for one day, but other than that, Mother Nature was fairly nice to me. That was until about two weeks ago: I had flown back to the UK from Thailand for 6 days, and then returned. Touching down in Thailand, I was exhausted, but had to start work two hours later and work for a full nine hours, so I opted to let myself have a little nap to make sure that I was in ship-shape condition. NUH UH, big mistake! From that moment until about 5 days later, I was at the mercy of some evil god of travel, who was making me pay for all of my past successes in jet lag combat. I could not for the life of me beat jet lag. I would get exhausted at about 7pm, but have to power through for work until 11pm, when I would then suddenly be wide awake. Seriously, I looked like the wide-eyed emoji, you know the one. I would toss and turn, working myself up into a right state, thinking the most absurdly anxious thoughts ever (“What if there is a huge natural disaster in England and all my family die?”), until I drifted off at about 3am. Waking up was then a total disaster, no matter what time I set my alarm for, snooze was going on. It was a vicious cycle that I could not break. Eventually, once my boyfriend had returned from his holiday jaunt, I started to sleep normally, as having company stopped my anxious brain from going into overdrive.

During this time, the academic in me did a bit of research, and came up with some background information on jet lag, and also some tactics for overcoming The Beast. A lot of it corroborated with my usual techniques, so I decided to stick the research into a post, for all of you to see.

Jet Lag Information

  • Jet lag is all to do with something called our circadian rhythm, which is basically the 24-hour cycle of our body. It’s endogenous, so happens naturally. I can’t look at this word without thinking of cicadas, and their annoying ability to keep me up all through the night whilst slightly perforating my eye drum. Are they called cicadas because they screw with your circadian rhythm? Big question.
  • Jet lag can develop into chronic jet lag, resulting from the constant shifting of time zones. This can lead to such lovely issues of reduced mental acuity, increased risk of cancer, digestive diseases, sleep disorders, and in extreme cases, DEATH1. Brilliant, just what I wanted to read, but I wanted you to have the same brief moment of horror that I had.
  • Jet lag, in its slightly happier version, leads to disrupted sleep and impaired alertness2. Hopefully this one applies to more of us…
  • Flying Eastward also produces increased rapid eye movement sleep, and psychological discomfort3. Well, this explains my issues then, isn’t it weird how these results were only found in Eastward travellers?
  • Adapting to your new time zone, and thus kicking jet lag in the metaphorical balls, can get harder with age3.
  • Morning people will find it easier when travelling East3.
  • Whereas night birds will find it easier heading West3.
  • Your ability to get rid of jet lag might actually be tied up in your genetic make-up3CHEERS, MUM.

The Important Badger Bit To Know To Beat Jet Lag

  • Never alter your rhythm for a layover. Short-term stops are not worth screwing with your body! If you’re feeling sleepy then have a coffee, if you’re feeling wide awake, try some meditation, or have that nap2.
  • For long stopovers or trips, adapt that rhythm! Read, exercise, keep yourself busy, and take some sleeping pills such as Melatonin2.
  • If you are super organized, you can actually start to adapt to the new time zone a few days before your trip. This is perfect for those who need to be alert as soon as they arrive in their destination, i.e. for a business trip. Don’t go head-first into it, maybe just tweak it by an hour or so a day for a couple of days2This is my number one personal tip: I always try and jump the gun on jet lag, by adapting to my destination time zone as soon as I start travelling. I set my watch to the new time, and if it’s nighttime there then I will try and sleep, and vice versa. If I had the planning ability, or could actually be arsed, then I would try and do it a few days before, but realistically who has time for that shit?
  • Go towards the liiiiight… but only if you want to wake up. Staring at some beautiful sunshine is the most natural way to wake up your body, due to our innate reliance on the world clock. Light naturally increases alertness, raises body temperature, and suppresses melatonin (the chemical in our body that induces sleep)2. If you can’t get to the sun, staring at an electric light is supposed to help to a degree as well – I now have a fantastic vision of people everywhere staring at light bulbs.
  • By the same token, if you need to sleep, block out the light. Draw those curtains, wear an eye mask, and do not let your brain realise that it’s light outside!
  • If you are heading East, expose yourself to light in the afternoon, and say hello to morning light2.
  • If you are heading West, expose yourself to light in the evening, and shun from the morning like a glittery Edward Cullen2.
  • Pop ‘dem pills. Melatonin is the naturally-occurring chemical in our bods that induces sleep4. You can buy it in a happy, hippy, natural pill form. It takes about an hour to kick in, and you will drift off into a beautiful sleep, with results indicating that it produces a 50% decline in jet lag symptoms5. However, make sure you take it at suitable sleeping hours. Taking it in the early hours of the morning actually delays your sleeping clock, and can keep you awake – This happened to me, and it was horrible. I try to take it by 11pm at the latest.
  • Grub’s up. This argument is somewhat dubious, and requires further research, however some studies have presented the idea that having a protein-rich meal in the morning increases tyrosine, which makes you feel more alert during the day. Vice versa, eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal in the evening increases levels of tryptophan for the release of serotonin, leaving you happy and sleepy. Helloooooo pizza for dinner.

I hope that my tips and tricks help you defeat The Beast and beat jet lag. Do you have any of your own advice on how to beat jet lag? Please let me know if you do!

*Disclaimer: Obviously, I have not done any of the research myself, nor do I own any of the research, all the results are down to the incredibly talented scientists, listed below. If you would like to know more, or to read their full reports, they are super easy to find on Google*


1Davidson, A.J., Sellix, M.T., Daniel, J., Yamazaki, S., Menaker, M. and Block, G.D. (2006) Chronic Jet-Lag Increases Mortality In Aged Mice, Current Biology, Vol. 16 (21), pp. 914 – 916.
2Désir, D., Van Cauter, E., Fang, V.S., Martino, E., Jadot, C., Spire, J.P., Noel, P., Refetoff, S., Copinschi, G., and Golstein, J. (1981) Effects of “Jet Lag” on Hormonal Patterns. I. Procedures, Variations in Total Plasma Proteins, and Disruption of Adrenocorticotropin-Cortisol Periodicity, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Vol. 52 (4), pp. 628-641.
3Morin, C.M., and Espie, C.A. (2012) Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
4Mishima, K., Satoh, K., Shimizu, T. and Hishikawa, Y. (1997) Hypnotic and hypothermic action of daytime-administered melatonin. Psychopharmacology, Vol. 133 (2), pp. 168-171.
5Zhdanova, I.V., and Wurtman, R.J. (1997). Efficacy of melatonin as a sleep-promoting agent. Journal of Biological Rhythms Vol. 12 (6), pp. 644-650.


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