Anyone who who has traveled across time zones knows the foggy, headachey, dragging feeling of jet lag. It’s really awful, and it can interfere with productivity and enjoyment on any business or personal trip. Especially if you have a somewhat limited time — say, a week in London — jet lag can cut into the fun of half your trip!
Jay Olson, a psychology instructor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the latest research on jet lag and developed a free app called Jet Lag Rooster, which aims to help travelers incrementally adjust their waking and sleeping patterns in order to tap into the body’s natural circadian rhythms to avoid or greatly diminish symptoms of jet lag.
The setup is easy enough: you simply input your flight itinerary information, your normal sleeping pattern, and indicate whether you want to start changing your schedule before or after arrival — starting before you depart can really help especially with long east-traveling journeys — and JLR pops out a printable schedule with hour-by-hour guidelines. Using a calculator that’s similar to the ones used by the Mayo Clinic’s sleep center, Jet Lag Rooster can determine when it’s best to sleep, to seek light, or to take melatonin (this is optional) to help the body adjust naturally to time changes without the mind-bending fatigue of jet lag.
When JLR prompts you to “seek light,” ideally that means sunshine, even on a cloudy day — but if it’s the middle of the night in your destination city, you can also use a travel version of a full-spectrum lamp. Likewise, if “avoiding light” is impossible, you can don sunglasses that block the blue light that has the strongest effect on the body’s clock.
If the time change is drastic, adjusting circadian rhythms can take days. It can be a little inconvenient upon arrival to, say, avoid sunlight after 2pm in Tokyo — but the reality is that the average person can only adjust their internal clock by an incremental amount of 60 to 90 minutes a day. Trying to get the body to accommodate a 13-hour time difference cannot be done in one day. That is, after all, what causes jet lag in the first place.
So, does it work? According to the research, it does. And thousands of alert, savvy travelers seem to agree.