A sleep expert tells us how to improve jet lag

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Adapted from an article by Richard A. Friedman’s article, “Yes, your sleep schedule is making you sick” published in the New York Times March 10 2017

Jet lag makes everyone miserable and here is what you can do about it.

 

We have a circadian rhythm that is 25 hours long and it is almost in synchronicity with the 24 hour day. Jet lag messes this up big time. Everyone who has experienced it knows that jet lag makes you feel tired, out of sorts, renders concentration difficult and makes you moody.

If you are flying from New York to Rome for instance and arrive early in the morning Rome time,  the best way to reduce jet lag is to keep on eye shades in the plane and dark glasses on the ground till your New York 7am has been reached. This will be about lunch time in Rome.

Melatonin is also an important factor. As it starts getting dark your pineal gland starts to produce melatonin around 2 or 3 hours before your sleep time. If you take a melatonin supplement earlier than this is can become possible for you to fall asleep earlier than you otherwise would.

Surprisingly, if you take melatonin in the early morning, it can fool your brain into thinking it slept longer, at least to some extent, and does not make you more tired during the day.

So this is the fix for jet lag. Travel east and you’ll need morning light and evening melatonin. Go west and you’ll need evening light and morning melatonin. 

If you are a night owl, who can’t sleep at midnight because it’s too early for you, take a small dose of melatonin a few hours before the desired bedtime. They can also try exposure to bright lights at progressively earlier times in the morning, which also should make it easier to fall asleep earlier. You

should also avoid the blue light that smartphones and computers emit in the evenings. You can wear special glasses that block blue light if this is a problem.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and director of psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

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