Is There a Cure for Jet Lag?

Ransom Riggs

I don't feel myself at all today. It's as if I'm moving in slow-motion through the world, or the world itself has sped up and left me behind; I am slow and forgetful and generally befuddled, easy to rile, and gravity seems to be working a lot harder on my head than the rest of me. The trouble is this: having just gotten back from Europe, I am deep in the murky throes of jet lag.

I've flown further, gone through more time zones, and I've done Europe-to-Los Angeles flights before, but for some reason jet lag has never hit me so hard. So I started looking into remedies, and I found some surprising things. Not very surprising were the "cures" that sounded more like quack medicine, like various herbal infusions and pills, and things like melatonin, a hormone which regulates circadian rhythms, but the efficacy of which has not been tested very thoroughly or endorsed by the FDA. Here's what the CDC has to say:

The use of the nutritional supplement melatonin is controversial for the prevention of jet lag. Some clinicians advocate the use of 0.5 mg to 5 mg of melatonin during the first few days of travel, and there are data to suggest its efficacy. However, the quality control of its production is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and contaminants have been found in commercially available products.

One of the weirdest remedies I found was Viagra. Also known as sildenafil citrate, studies have shown that it can speed recovery from jet lag by as much as 50% ... in hamsters. It hasn't been tested in humans yet, though at this point I'm almost ready to volunteer for a trial.

Another funky-sounding remedy is a night light. Dim nighttime illumination, which is thought to simulate moonlight, has also been shown to speed recovery from jet lag ... also in hamsters. At least this one I could try out without getting a prescription for Viagra.

Though researchers don't fully understand why, older people tend to experience fewer and less intense jet lag symptoms. I would assume it has something to do with the fact that older folks just don't seem to need as much sleep as younger ones, so there's less circadian rhythm to be messed up in the first place.

So no, it doesn't appear that there's a cure for jet lag, other than not traveling on jets. But there seem to be no end to the tips floating around on the net, like old wives' tales, about how to ameliorate the symptoms. Here are a few more from the CDC:

During travel
* Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine.
* Drink plenty of water.
* Move around on the plane to promote mental and physical acuity.
* Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
* Sleep, if possible, during long flights.

Upon arrival
* Avoid situations requiring critical decision-making, such as writing blogs for mental_floss, on the first day after arrival. (OK, I added the blogging part. But seriously. This is hard.)
* Adapt to the local schedule as soon as possible. However, if the travel period is 2 days or less, travelers should remain on home time.
* Optimize exposure to sunlight following arrival in either direction.
* Eat meals appropriate to the local time.

What do you do to fight jet lag?

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