Thank You Jet Lag Rooster!

How to Prevent Jet Lag

Jet lag is a Bitch! And its one of those things I don’t consider, until I’m seated in the plane, and  I adjust my watch to the destination time, and realize that’s no where near what I’m feeling.  Then there’s the long flight, sometimes a stop-over or two, and things start to go all Christian Bale a la ‘The Machinist’, harsh, grey, impossed insomnia. The blurry last leg arriving at the airport, customs, baggage, transport to the hotel, checkin and collapse.  And the next day is inevitably a struggle to conform to the local time clock and very often, a day that I have no recollection of later.

Scientific America. For weary travelers, light is both friend and enemy. Image: iStock / Gene Chutka

I’ve tried forcing myself to stay awake, longs walks to stay awake, and melatonin supplements. And  I can’t say the results have been particularly significant.

This year my strategy is lots of small trips. Going for the great flight deals, anywhere, the farther the better. With limited accommodation and entertainment budget and vacation time, that means as many 5-7 day trips as I can afford.  With this travel approach, I need to be aware and awake, to enjoy every waking hour of my short trips.

In March for my trip to Hawaii, I tried something new.  Hawaii is just 2 hours behind Vancouver, arriving at 9pm in Waikiki means 11pm for my Vancouver body, for me thats a time difference between going out for drinks and dinner versus going to bed, or the next morning waking up at 7am when coffee shops are open versus 5am when most aren’t.  What I tried was adjusting to the destination time before I even left Vancouver.  For my Hawaii trip, that was easy, starting 3 days before my trip I started going to bed later, and waking a later, until the day of my travel, when I was on par with Hawaii time.  When I arrived in Waikiki, Friday night, I made my way to the hotel, checked-in, freshened up and was able to enjoy cocktails and dinner, and feel like I was awake and conscious.

My trip to the UK was not so easy a time shift, so I sought some more sophisticated help. Jet Lag Rooster, coincidentally invented by a local Psychology Instructor in Vancouver, was immensely helpful.  Jet Lag Rooster lets you enter your flight itinerary and schedule, your normal sleeping habits, and a choice of when you want shift to the destination time (before or after departure) . It then automatically creates a personal plan to help you adjust to the destination time and avoid jet lag. For my YVR-UK trip, my plan had me waking up one hour earlier and seeking light for the three days preceding my departure. That did mean waking at 3am on my day of departure, but it also mean’t I was dog tired when my red-eye flight took off, and I dozed on-and-off 5 hours on the flight (when I normally don’t). And I felt awake when I arrived at the local time of 10am, and I feel like I was much more conscious the first 24 hours in the UK, which is a huge change from my last trip.

There were also 3 days worth of instructions after arrival, to seek light late in the evening, but as it was a holiday catching up with close friends and ‘all go’ in the UK,  keeping to UK evening hours was not a problem.  I admit, of the many trips I’ve made from PST to GMT, the jet lag on this one was one of the least painful! With the exception of one night , waking up slightly at 1:30am but getting back to sleep, I didn’t have any major setbacks. To me, that’s remarkable.

I have to say, I did not follow the Jet Lag Rooster plan for my UK-YVR return trip, and am suffering for it. Still, being home, I feel that if I wake up in the middle of the night, at least I can do something productive in my own home. Doesn’t mean I didn’t curse the jet lag this morning.

Jet Lag Rooster  was created by Jay Olson who works as a teaching assistant at Simon Fraser University and researches the psychology of magic at the University of British Columbia. He became interested in how to prevent jet lag after sleeping through the first week of afternoons on a Europe trip. He hasn’t been jet lagged since.

Article in Scientific America :
How to Prevent Jet Lag; Scientists describe a system of light exposure that will make long plane trips more pleasurable.
By Jay Olson