After Hearing How Awful Jet Lag Is I Tried to Cheat It…The Method Is Easier Than You Might Guess

Note: While Janel usually does the blogging around here today we have a “guest” post from Daniel…

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I wake up to big-city street sounds outside the apartment and sunshine coming through the cracks around the window shutters.

Looking out the window I can see other apartment buildings with miniature window “balconies” and potted plants. Most of the buildings are roughly 6-7 stories tall.

Glancing down shows a one-way street full of parked Renaults, Opels and Volkswagens. Directly below a colorful Indian textile shop is getting ready for the day. We’re not in small-town SW Michigan anymore.

Approximate time: 7:30 AM CET (August 30th, 2013)

Location: 22 Rue du Département, Paris, France

I conduct an immediate self-assessment for signs of jet lag. Results: Negative.

I consult my 3 traveling companions and we all seem good to go. My anti-jet lag experiment is a success!

The Backstory:

Two calendar days previous -August 28th- we’d boarded a 6:55 PM overnight Lufthansa flight from Detroit > Frankfurt and then departed Frankfurt for Paris on another flight mid-day on the 29th.

Despite the 6 hour time difference we found we’d adjusted immediately to the new time zone and we’re able to spend the next few days exploring Paris (including visits to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre of course) with plenty of energy.

Jet lag seems like one of those things that just gets accepted as a problem you have to put up with if you are traveling across any significant number of time zones.

I’m keen on finding ways to avoid problems that typically get accepted as normal and unavoidable so when we started planning for transatlantic travel last summer I got to work researching methods for avoiding jet lag.

My usual first stop for such “biohacking” information involves Dave Asprey -an entrepreneur, executive and frequent traveler- and he didn’t let me down.

I found what I was looking for in the comments on one of his blog posts where he recommended an anti-jet lag protocol that sounded easy and inexpensive.

Here’s the method as I’ve practiced it on 4 transatlantic crossings. It is for use on flights that cross 5 or more time zones (i.e. East-to-West or vice versa).

The Method:

1) Acquire a melatonin supplement in tablet, capsule or liquid form. You need 1mg dosages.

2) If your flight crosses 5 or more time zones take a 1mg dose of melatonin as your flight takes off. Take another 1mg dose every hour until your flight lands in your destination time zone. I set vibrating alarms on my iPhone to go off every hour after the first dose as a reminder.

3) Once you arrive at your destination and if it is still day remain awake until local bedtime (e.g. 9 or 10 PM local time). If you arrive at night or approximately local bedtime you can go directly to sleep on arrival. Either way when you awake in the morning you should be adjusted to the local time zone.

I’ve used Life Extension brand melatonin capsules as well as Walgreens brand tablets and a cherry-flavored liquid brand for 3-year-old Natasha. I believe Trader Joe’s has a flavored chewable 1mg tablet available as well.

walgreens-melatonin-for-jet-lag

If you want more detail on the biology of why this works you can look at the page I adapted the protocol from. I did try it precisely as described by Udo Erasmus but found that using just the melatonin does the trick for me (he uses an expensive and hard-to-find herbal sedative as well which I find unnecessary).

There are some potential downsides to the method…

1) If you are able to sleep on airplanes then taking the 1mg melatonin dose requires waking when your pre-set alarms go off. I can’t sleep on airplanes in economy class and have yet to fly in a decent reclining or lie-flat business or first class seat so this is not a problem for me. Update 8/8/14: I’ve now flown overnight on Cathay Pacific 777 business class ORD>HKG and Qantas A330  CGK>SYD business class seats. Cathay’s are great for sleeping and Qantas’ are good, but not as good.

2) Personally melatonin makes me nauseated. Sometimes the effect is worse than others. On our trip to France, Janel and Maria didn’t have any trouble with nausea. It gets me every time. I still think the method is worth using simply because I want immediate adjustment to my destination time zone instead of spending days of fatigue and fogginess while my circadian rhythm catches up. Try it for yourself and see how you feel. Update: 8/8/14: I used this protocol on a 15 hr business class flight from Chicago to Hong Kong (left about 1 AM from Chicago) and only had a hint of nausea for a minute or two during the whole time. I was much more rested and had more protein in the form of tasty little bison/cranberry Tanka bites and food from a business class menu. I think the ability to get some sleep -albeit punctuated- and have enough food helped stave off nausea.

3) Melatonin makes some people sleepy immediately after dosing. Just make sure you have alarms to wake you at dosing times and I don’t see a problem with this. Update 8/8/14: Confirmed by experience: Take your dose, sleep, wake with the alarm and take the next dose before falling back to sleep. Repeat.

As an extra note…Despite what the bottles of melatonin you buy say on them, please don’t use it as a regular sleep aid. It is good for a specific purpose like combating jet lag but if you “need” it regularly to get to sleep then there is something bigger wrong which you should try to fix. I’ve heard of people giving melatonin to their kids to make them nap or fall asleep at night. Face+palm.

Adrafinil and Sleep Deprivation Fatigue

I have one more tip for dealing with the sleep deprivation and fatigue that goes with travel. You can use this completely separately from the melatonin dosing protocol described above or in conjunction with it.

Since I can’t sleep on a plane when I travel I typically end up being awake for 24-32 hours straight which is pretty rough when combined with stressful flight delays, security screenings etc.

To counter the fatigue especially when arriving at a destination low on sleep with a lot of things to do before bedtime (find your hotel/apartment, buy metro passes etc, catch another regional flight etc.) I’ve found adrafinil to be helpful.

Adrafinil is metabolized into modafinil and while I would prefer to use the more effective modafinil for this purpose it is prescription-only and though you can obtain it otherwise I think the potential legal downsides of buying/owning it aren’t worth it here in the “Land of the Free” (or wherever you live).

Since adrafinil is uncontrolled and can be purchased online like most vitamins and supplements it is my alternative choice. Since it is a prodrug and not ideal for frequent use I use it only when it I feel it will help the most. For example: When arriving back in the U.S. after 22+ hours with no sleep and a 2+ hour drive from the airport in the middle of the night.

Adrafinil is more effective than caffeine in that it is longer lasting and rather than making you feel hyped up (tired-but-wired) it essentially removes -or greatly diminishes- any feeling of tiredness or fatigue and let’s you focus on driving, navigating a new city or the like.

Unlike the melatonin protocol -which I believe to be safe for small children- adrafinil is only for adults (no pregnant or nursing mothers).

I’ll give a couple links to sources for pre-packaged adrafinil as well as a bulk source. Use your own judgement on sourcing and taking adrafinil since this is for informational purposes about my experience only.

Go Forth and Eliminate Jet Lag!

That, my friends, is what has worked for our travels. Give it a try, let me know how it goes, tell other travelers about it etc.

Have you ever heard of eliminating jet lag like this or with some other method?

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2 thoughts on “After Hearing How Awful Jet Lag Is I Tried to Cheat It…The Method Is Easier Than You Might Guess

  1. Thanks guys! This is VERY timely advice as we prepare to travel to China in April, to adopt our dear son. We were already concerned about the jet lag problem …we really cant afford to be loopy parents, as we will have our 3 kids along plus getting the fourth. Im printing this out now! Thanks SO much!
    ~~Esther

  2. So, in your continued and combined experience, would you say that waking a sleeping toddler on an 18-hour journey to a timezone twelve hours different to take the milligram of melatonin would be worth it, or not? Said toddler is not the easiest sleeper in the world, but certainly not the worst.

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