Jet Lag

Hi all, sorry it’s been so long between posts – we’ve been a bit busy, first with the ball, and then with all the upcoming hijinks (Quiz Night Redux, anyone?) – and the exec are in the middle of tying up any loose ends to pave the way for any Excited Young People (that’s you) to come and take the reins for next year. Or, in the case of President, take the reign.

Personally, I (your esteemed secretary, hand of the queen, etc) have been travelling the world and visiting summer; I write to you from Long Beach, L.A., where the temperature is… uh… 80-something. (I gave a talk on the use of scientific concepts in haiku last week at the Haiku North America conference) That’s inspired this post, and the intensive desire to procrastinate my dissertation has made it actually occur. Here we go!

What even is “jet lag”?

Okay, so you know when you travel to England, and it’s really exciting, and you can’t wait to get up early each morning and like, drink tea? But then you can’t fall asleep at the right time, and you can’t get up at the right time, and nothing makes sense and they don’t even have real coffee there? Jet Lag is what happens when you travel really fast, across a bunch of different time zones, so the time zone your body is in doesn’t match the time zone your body thinks it is in.


That occurs because we developed the technology to time travel (basically). By travelling from east to west, or west to east, you move along a “day” at a speed different to how the “day” actually passes. So, for example, on my flight to L.A., we left at half past ten in the evening, flew for eleven hours, and landed at half past two in the afternoon on the same day. There is no way you can add that up to make sense, and you end up being out by about five hours – which is the time difference between L.A. and New Zealand.

This meant that waking up was the worst, but I wasn’t getting to sleep until midnight or one in the morning, because I was running on New Zealand time. The fact that planes are terrible doesn’t help jet lag, but you’re pretty unlikely to get jet lagged if you fly within the same time zone – you might feel terrible if you don’t sleep for two days, but you won’t be jet lagged!

What can I do about it?

Seeing as jet lag has negative side effects (1,2) including increased mortality in mice (1) and some spatial cognitive defects (2), yeah, something should be done. Melatonin has been suggested to help out with re-setting your schedule, and appears to do so – it works particularly well when done in combination with timed light exposure – most experiments have been done using light boxes, or dorky goggles with bright lights inside them, however wearing dark glasses to avoid unwanted light is probably your best bet (3).

Using stimulants or sleeping pills can also be done, in order to force your body clock into the “right” time zone – sleeping pills definitely send you to sleep, but it is undetermined whether you’re then more awake during the day. What does work (and I am very grateful to know this) is that drinking more coffee not ONLY makes you more awake during the day, but ALSO helps you get over jetlag faster (3).

Go forth and travel widely, but do not forget the coffee!



1. Davidson AJ, Sellix MT, Daniel J, Yamazaki S, Menaker M, Block GD (2006) “Chronic Jet-Lag Increases Mortality in Aged Mice” Curr Biol. 16(21): 914-916
2. Cho, K, (2001) “Chronic ‘jet lag’ produces temporal lobe atrophy and spatial cognitive deficits.” Nature Neuroscience 4: 567-8

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