Jetlag cures

(Epistemic status: not particularly supported by science, works on my machine, your results may vary.)

I’ve been traveling across an 8-hour timezone boundary (for work). I rarely experience much jet lag anymore (if my flight lands in the morning, I can still get a productive day; if my flight lands at night I’ll fall asleep properly that night). So I wanted to share how I’ve achieved this and how you (maybe) can too.

Short version – use melatonin supplements and light tricks to force-adjust your sleep cycle, and withdraw from caffeine to make yourself sleepy.

Long version:

Piotr Wozniak (otherwise known as “the SuperMemo guy”) and a few other people on the internet have a model of sleep which is based on a two-component model: a circadian (daily cycle) component and a homeostatic (building-up-pressure) component. Here’s where he describes it: http://www.supermemo.com/articles/sleep.htm - search for circadian.

The circadian component is regulated by the natural hormone melatonin. Your brain produces melatonin on an internal “clock” when it thinks it is about to get dark out. This process seems to be mostly based on the clock, but the clock will slowly adjust based on feedback from blue/white light during the daytime. A big part of jet lag is that your circadian clock is totally wrong for the new time zone and so you aren’t sleepy when you should be, or you get sleepy during the day.

(Note – the well-known tool Flux (https://justgetflux.com/) works based on reducing blue light emitted by screens at night, allowing the brain to produce melatonin.)

But! We can take melatonin supplements. My theory (which has some shaky scientific basis, google it) is that supplementing melatonin “resets” the circadian clock much faster than just looking at blue light.

However, this is not by itself sufficient – when I take melatonin at weird times, I often get an unusual sensation of “not sleepy but still want to close my eyes and not move much” feeling.

So phase two is adjusting the homeostatic component. Without something like an adenosine supplement, this seems harder to adjust at will - but then I reread Wozniak and he was very clear in his warnings about caffeine: caffeine has an inhibitory effect on the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is what’s responsible for the homeostatic sleepiness feeling.

Credit here goes to my colleague Drew, who figured this out first through self-experimentation: stop caffeine before your flight.

The way caffeine tolerance works is that your brain produces more adenosine and more sensitive receptors, to compensate for caffeine’s inhibitory effect. That’s why you get extra tiredness when you withdraw from caffeine. Yes, you will have headaches and be a bit more irritable too, but (in my and Drew’s experience) that’s not a blocker for sleeping on the plane.

OK, so here’s the full set of recommendations:

 
7
Kudos
 
7
Kudos

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