Beating jet lag with science | Day 337

As you’re reading this, I’m actually some 9-12 kilometres above the ground, embarking on a flight itinerary that will take me from Sydney to Rīga, Latvia. That’s an 8-hour shift backwards in time, which means I’m going to be hit by dreadful jet lag – the physiological condition when one’s body clock is disrupted due to fast air travel. Much like with other members of the animal kingdom on our planet Earth, human circadian rhythms adjust to daylight and darkness, and the body relies on this schedule to regulate body temperature, send hunger signals, make you sleepy, and so on. The hormone involved in all this comes from the pineal gland in the brain; it’s melatonin, produced less in daylight, and more when it’s dark.

This is why jet lag feels so dreadful – it’s your body being forced to do a lot of normal biological things at the completely wrong time of day. Melatonin levels are all over the place, and the whole system is a mess.

Due to a massive disruption of all my prep plans for the last three days before the flight, I haven’t managed to start a jet lag adjustment program, or get enough sleep, or pack in a leisurely manner, or any of the nice things one is advised to do before a major trip.

However, there are things one can do to conquer jetlag as efficiently as possible – and naturally these methods involve exposure to light. In fact, mathematicians from the University of Michigan have even devised an app that calculates the optimal light-dark exposure schedule for when you are embarking on time-shifting travel.

I’ve downloaded the app, called Entrain – so far all it’s done is repeatedly crashed on my Android phone, but I’ll persevere and report back once I’m on the other end of this three-leg air voyage. Right now I’m really looking forward to all the sleeping I’ll get to do on the plane.

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