5 Jet Lag Remedies

Natural Remedies to Avoid Jet Lag

Jet Lag
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Whether you're flying to Europe for a much-needed vacation, across the country to visit family or friends, or just travel a lot for business, who wants to waste their trip adjusting to a new time zone?

Jet lag occurs after air travel across several time zones. It's caused by the body's circadian rhythms being out of sync with the local destination time.

Symptoms of jet lag are temporary and include insomnia, irritability, indigestion, and disorientation in the days following air travel.

How long does jet lag normally last? Count on about one day to adjust to each time zone crossed. For example, a flight from New York to London crosses 5 time zones, so it would take roughly 5 days to recover.

Traveling eastward, such as from the United States to Europe or from Europe to Asia, generally causes more severe jet lag than traveling westward.

Natural Remedies for Jet Lag

So far, scientific support for the claim that any remedy can treat jet lag is fairly lacking. 

1) Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. One of melatonin's key jobs is controlling the body's circadian rhythm--our internal clock that plays an important role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.

Melatonin release is tied to the amount of light there is. When it gets dark at night and we turn out the lights, melatonin release is stimulated. Light suppresses melatonin release. When we cross time zones and are suddenly exposed to excessive light when it's normally our bedtime (even a three-hour time difference can do it), our melatonin cycles are disrupted and we experience jet lag until our circadian rhythms adjust to the new environment.

Melatonin supplements are thought to help the body quickly adjust to the new surroundings. Although it is found in 30 mg pills, most practitioners agree that the lowest dose possible should be used and it should only be taken for a short time. There have no long-term studies on the safety of melatonin.

Higher doses may cause side effects such as vivid dreams and nightmares. Besides, a Rush University study found no difference between 0.5 mg and 3 mg melatonin.

For jet lag, practitioners generally suggest taking a 0.5 mg tablet of melatonin a night for three nights, one hour before a normal bedtime. Research suggests that taking it once a person has reached the travel destination is sufficient and that starting melatonin supplements prior to or during air travel may actually slow the recovery of jet lag, energy, and alertness.

More on Melatonin.

2) Adjusting Sleep and Wake Time

Another strategy to avoid jet lag involves adjusting a person's bedtime and wake time to the destination time prior to traveling. It is generally started prior to travel and involves waking up and going to bed one hour progressively earlier/later (depending on which way you're traveling) each day for three days.

If traveling eastward, this means going to sleep one hour earlier than normal on day one and waking up one hour earlier.

On day two, bedtime would be two hours earlier and wake time would be two hours later. On the third day, bedtime would be three hours earlier and wake time would be three hours earlier.

If traveling westward, bedtime would be one hour later than normal and wake time would be one hour later than normal and it would also increase progressively each day.

If it's not possible to follow this gradual schedule, some readers suggest pre-adjusting to the new time zone a day in advance by setting your watch to your destination time the day before you travel and preconditioning yourself to the new time. If it is six hours later at your travel destination, this means waking up six hours earlier the day you travel and then going to sleep when it is nighttime at your destination. If you must nap, seasoned travelers suggest limiting naps to no more than an hour.

3) Homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are small vials of tiny pellets. They are made from minute dosages of naturally occurring substances which, in much larger doses, would produce the same symptoms in healthy people similar to those of the condition or disease.

Homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that they are no longer detectable, so they are not believed to be toxic or affect the way other medications are metabolized.

A popular homeopathic combination remedy for jet lag includes homeopathic arnica montana (Leopard's bane), bellis perennis (Daisy), Chamomilla (Wild chamomile), Ipecacuanha (Ipecac), and Lycopodium (Clubmoss). Remember that homeopathic remedies are specially prepared and that regular, non-homeopathic doses of these substances can be toxic if taken internally.

Using Natural Remedies

If you're considering the using any natural remedy for jet lag, make sure to consult your physician first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Some homeopaths say that No Jet Lag will only work if jet lag symptoms match the profiles of these remedies. Other jet lag remedies, which can be purchased individually in health food stores and some drug stores, may be a closer match. For example, Cocculus indicus is used for people who say they are "too tired to sleep". They may feel weak, dizzy, irritable, and have trouble concentrating.

Although the profiles are quite extensive, here are some characteristics for each No Jet Lag homeopathic ingredient:

  • Arnica: sleeplessness and restlessness when over-tired
  • Bellis perennis: waking mid-sleep and sleep interruptions
  • Chamomilla: emotional and mental stress, sleeplessness, impatience, intolerance and disorientation
  • Ipecacuanha: intense and constant nausea
  • Lycopodium: anxiety, anticipatory fears, apprehension, inability to adapt to new surroundings, digestive problems, especially bloating and gas

For all homeopathic remedies, follow the instructions on the vial or consult a homeopath for specific instructions.

4) Valerian

Valerian is a herb used as a natural sleep aid. For jet lag, it is used to help adjust to new time zones by helping people fall asleep at their desired time. Unlike other sleep aids, valerian is not believed to be addictive or cause grogginess the next morning.

5) Diet

When it comes to air travel, there are some well-known diet maxims: avoid excess alcohol or caffeine, drink plenty of water, and eat light meals.

But Dr. Charles F. Ehret, a scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, says that it's possible to use diet to help reset your body's clock to a new time zone. Called the "Argonne diet" or the "anti-jet lag diet", the diet was developed after research with experimental animals and humans.

Basically, the diet alternates feast and fast days and ends with a high-protein breakfast:

Begin three days prior to departure.

Day 1: Feast day

Eat predominantly high-protein foods (e.g. meat, fish, chicken, cheese, eggs, tofu) for breakfast and lunch. The theory is that these foods stimulate the body's production of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine (substances called catecholamines) which help the body maintain an alert, awake state.

Dinner should be carbohydrates (e.g. cereal grains, wheat, rice, oats, potatoes, fruit, peas, pasta, bread, dried fruit) with no high-protein foods. Carbohydrate-rich foods are believed to stimulate the body to produce melatonin.

Coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas are only permitted between 3 and 5 pm during the first three days, a time of day when caffeine is not thought to affect circadian rhythms.

Day 2: Fast day

Only light meals such as salads and thin soups are recommended. These so-called "fast" days are thought to deplete the liver's store of glycogen (a muscle fuel) to prepare the body to reset its clock.

Day 3: Feast day

Follow the same guidelines as day 1.

Day 4 (departure day): Fast day

Follow the modified fast and get as much sleep as you can until it is breakfast time at your destination. If traveling westward, caffeine is permitted in the morning of the departure, and if traveling eastward, caffeine is permitted between 6 and 11 pm.

When your watch indicates that it is breakfast time at your destination, have a protein-heavy breakfast without coffee, turn on the overhead reading light and then stay as active as you can afterwards. If you are traveling from New York to Paris and departed at 7:00 pm, this means having breakfast at 2:00 am New York time (8:00 am Paris time). The flight attendant may agree to save your dinner until that time or you can pack food such as protein bars with you.

Eat the rest of the meals according to normal mealtimes at your destination.

Does this diet work? The anti-jet lag diet website (which charges for personalized plans) says that this anti-jet lag diet has help thousands of people effectively. There was one study in the journal Military Medicine that found decreased jet lag in National Guard personnel who followed the diet.

Drawbacks of the diet are that people may find the diet too difficult and there may be possible caffeine withdrawal.

If considering this diet, be sure to discuss it with your doctor first because it is not suitable for everyone, such as people with diabetes or eating disorders.

Sources

Petrie K et al. A double-blind trial of melatonin as a treatment for jet lag in international cabin crew. Biological Psychiatry. 33.7 (1993):526-30.

Revell VL et al. Advancing human circadian rhythms with afternoon melatonin and morning intermittent bright light. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 91.1 (2006):54-9.

Reynolds NC Jr and Montgomery R. Using the Argonne diet in jet lag prevention: deployment of troops across nine time zones. Military Medicine. 167(6) (2002):451-3.

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