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Fighting Jet Lag

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 8 months ago

A Cure-All for Jet Lag? Try Caffeine and Naps


Published: April 30, 2008, www.nytimes.com


GOOD news! Last June, researchers in Argentina identified a promising potential treatment for jet lag: sildenafil. You might know the drug by its more common brand name, Viagra.


    The study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that our circadian rhythms, the body’s inner clock, could be shifted with the little blue pill. Sounds as if we will have that jet lag problem solved in no time, right? Or, at least, travelers will have a new excuse to ask their doctors for Viagra.


    The press had a grand time with this, of course, but the news is not as clear as the reports might make it seem. The single study only showed effectiveness of sildenafil in hamsters. Will the results be borne out in further studies? Will the drug have the same sleep-shifting effect on humans? Nobody knows. And besides, isn’t that particular drug more closely linked to vacations than to negotiations?


    That’s why Mark R. Rosekind, a sleep expert and a founder of Alertness Solutions, a consulting firm in Cupertino, Calif., that helps businesses deal with issues like shift-work alertness and jet lag, said that he is cautious whenever he hears of a purported miracle cure — from over-the-counter homeopathy to hot-off-the-presses research. “I’m open to everything, but I’m a scientist,” he said. “Show me the data.” He wants to see solid scientific evidence to support any product’s promise of being good for what ails travelers.


    What ails travelers, of course, is that groggy, slo-mo, brain-in-syrup feeling, along with the edginess and distorted sleep patterns that can make long-distance travel a misery. Dr. Rosekind said that data from his own research showed that “when you disrupt sleep or the clock, you’re looking at a 20 to 50 percent reduction in performance” along a range of activities requiring attention and vigilance.


    Experts like Dr. Rosekind and Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, the chairman of Circadian, a business sleep-consulting company near Boston, say that a great deal is now known about the body’s rhythms and how to shift them. “If you know what you’re doing and it’s controlled, you can get great effects,” Dr. Rosekind said.


    But making the cycles shift is tricky, he said, and it’s just as easy to get it wrong as it is to get it right. Half the traveling public does not do anything about jet lag, Dr. Rosekind said, and of those who do, “most of what they do doesn’t do anything, or makes it worse.”


Part of the problem, Dr. Moore-Ede said, is that one size definitely does not fit all. “Because people are different, generic treatment doesn’t work,” he said.


    Organizations like NASA take sleep shifting seriously and routinely help astronauts prepare for shuttle missions, which because of the timing of their launchings might have a work schedule that resembles the overnight shift at their home base in Houston. With the right cues and base knowledge of a person’s normal sleep patterns, “you can actually shift somebody to anywhere in the world in about two or three days,” said Dr. Rosekind, who worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in the 1990s and led some of the research that the agency now uses.


    NASA prepares the astronauts, as it did for a mission earlier this year, by shifting their sleep schedules in the days before launching and regulating the patterns of light and dark that the astronauts are exposed to in their housing. Even so, one astronaut, Garrett E. Reisman, joked at a press briefing in the weeks before launching, “The main strategy is just we’re all going to drink a lot of coffee right before we go out to the launch pad.”


    For those who do not have the luxury of days of preparation and total control over lighting and their schedules, experts recommend trying to adjust to a new time zone in small ways. Catching sunlight once you arrive in another time zone can be more effective than drugs in helping to reset the body’s clock, Dr. Moore-Ede said, adding, “The best thing you can do is get outdoors.”


    Dr. Rosekind underscored the need to get as much sleep as you can before and during travel. Get plenty of rest before the trip, he said, to avoid starting out with a “sleep debt” that compounds over the length of your stay. After arrival, take care to get enough sleep and ensure that your sleep will be uninterrupted — by staying in hotels, for example, that provide a quiet setting and heavy curtains to keep light out. And, he said, avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime because it disrupts sleep patterns.


    Some travelers swear by drugs like Provigil, a prescription medicine for narcolepsy that helps to hold off sleep. Dr. Moore-Ede warned that the use of such powerful medications has not yet been proved effective for sleep cycle adjustment; and the long-term effects are not known. Similarly, no research has yet proven that melatonin, a popular aid to resetting the clock, is effective for most people — partly because trying to adjust your circadian rhythms without having a deep understanding of your patterns before starting might just as well shift the rhythms by too much or not enough. “You have to know how to use it,” he said.


    In fact, experts said, for most trips it might be best to make the most of the alertness you can muster when you need it. That comes down to “naps and caffeine,” Dr. Rosekind said. Studies of pilots showed that a 26-minute nap in flight — while a co-pilot took the controls, of course — increased performance by 34 percent and overall alertness by 54 percent.


    Using simple caffeine to raise alertness in conjunction with naps during a trip is a winning strategy, Dr. Rosekind said. Caffeine takes 15 to 30 minutes to work, and an effective nap should be less than 45 minutes, to avoid going into the kind of deep sleep that leaves people groggy. So drinking a cup of coffee just before a nap, he said, can ensure that you will awaken with a little extra zip. The caffeine and nap working together “can actually show a performance boost greater than either one alone,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 6:25 am on Apr 30, 2008

To Europe, get there in the morning, walk for 1 or 2 hours, nap for 3, and bingo you're on their schedule. Coming back, fugget about it - it takes a day for every hour of change to re-adjust. Going to and from Asia is right up there with a root canal....

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