Some Strategies for Managing Jet Lag (Not)
Jeffrey Ventrella, August, 2009

I often do experiments with my jet lag. Once, before flying to Japan, I decided to stay up the night before, assuming I could get a head-start on the upside-down sleep schedule. The only thing that happened was that I became sleep-deprived, irritable, and nauseous.

I just recently flew back from South Korea. On the plane, I drew a picture like the one shown below. The dark blue areas show my sleep schedule in Seoul, Korea. The black area is the sleep schedule I had to return to after coming home.

Since my wife was not coming back for another week, and since I was on a contract job that allowed me to work at home, I decided to do an experiment. Knowing that it is easier to shift one's sleep schedule forward than back (going to bed later and waking up later), I decided to do a gradual shift forward, like what is shown here.

I had hoped that having no outside pressures to get back to a proper schedule, I could ease-in nice and slowly. But there is one problem that I totally forgot about: Higgs (my dog). Higgs was not having any if it. Higgs is already demanding when it comes to going out for his daily run in the park, and he had apparently decided that I am not allowed to sleep away most of the day.

I decided to try a new strategy. I was only one day into the previous experiment, so, what the heck. This time, I decided to draw another picture, shown here.

This picture is a little easier to deal with for my slightly-dyslexic mind. It eliminates the edges at right and left, and allows the true cyclical nature of earth's day and night shifting to be visualized, as a circle. The numbers show times in San Francisco (PST).

My Korea sleep schedule is shown in blue, and my San Francisco sleep schedule is shown in black. My new strategy was to gradually shrink my Korea-based sleep time, and to start a "nap" corresponding to San Francisco sleep time, and gradually increase the nap time until it turns into a whole night's sleep, as shown below.
So, you may be did this experiment work out? Well, I don't know yet. I'm only one day into this experiment :)

Here is a question: can the human circadian rhythm be "shifted" in time, or does it bifurcate into polyrhythms before settling into a new phase? In other words, by doing the above experiment, what happens to my circadian rhythm over the span of the five days? Do my balances of melatonin and body temperature "phase shift" over to the new time, or do they fade away from one location in the phase cycle and emerge in a different location?

The answer to this question might indicate which of the above strategies is best.

Well-timed doses of melatonin and caffiene help too. By the way, the Wikipedia entry on jet lag I found (as of today) has an interseting note:

"Most chemical and herbal remedies, including the hormone melatonin, have not been tested nor approved by official agencies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration. Few studies have tested the use of melatonin for jet lag and have given mixed results, likely because the timing of administration needs to be precise and individualized..."

"...A recent study in hamsters showed that sildenafil (known commercially as Viagra) aided in a 50% faster recovery from shifts comparable to eastward travel experienced by humans and was effective starting at low doses..."

I think a pharmaceutical lobbyist or FDA representative wrote this. Melatonin works. I think these kinds of people need to stop sticking their flaccid little weenies into the process of pure scientific inquiry. I think this guy needs to take his own Viagra, and party with the hampsters.

Also, Eddie Elliot turned me onto this: