Five tools to beat jet lag

19 Feb 2014

There are a number of different products to combat the common traveller's ailment of jet lag. The following five have been evaluated by Andrew Lim, a sleep neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and assistant professor of neurology at the University of Toronto. 



What is it? This new product is the talk of town among weary, time-zone-traversing travellers. The design of the sleep-regulating glasses is based on 25 years of scientific research in sleep psychologies, and employs green-blue light wavelengths to shift sleep rythms.

How it works? This device is worn around the eyes and gives off 100 per cent UV-free green light, helping your body recognise when to be awake and when to sleep. It claims it corrects sleep patterns within four days after 30-to-35-minutes of the treatment per day.

Cost: It can be ordered online for A$299 (US$267).

Expert’s opinion: There is a strong scientific rationale for devices based on light exposure, and indeed a number of human studies supporting their use. However, the key is knowing when to wear the glasses, which depends on where you are travelling from, and to. Wearing the glasses at the wrong times could in fact worsen jet lag, rather than improving it. Use of this sort of light exposure should be combined with avoidance of light (e.g. by using sunglasses) at other times. If in doubt, consulting a physician who specialises in sleep and circadian disorders may be helpful.

British Airways jet lag calculator

What is it? Available on the airline’s website is a “jet lag calculator”. It was developed by Dr Chris Idzikowski, a UK sleep expert.

How it works? You simply need to answer a few questions about your sleep habits and the time in your current city and home, and then the programme will generate a list of advice, mainly about when to seek and avoid light.

Cost: Free

Expert’s opinion: There are a number of products like this out there. The principal of seeking light at certain times and avoiding light at other times is a scientifically sound one, and is the same idea behind the "re-timer" glasses above. Light is by far the most potent stimulus for resetting the circadian clock, and the most effective approaches to jet lag rely on selective exposure to light (especially blue light) at certain times, and avoidance of light at others.


Hotel therapies

What is it? Many hotels offer massages or treatments especially for jet lag, as your body will be unsure whether it should be awake or asleep after a long flight, and your muscles may also ache from hours in a cramped cabin.

How it works? For example, Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai has a Travellers Retreat Package, which combines several treatments and is designed to combat jet lag. It starts with a soothing aroma bath, followed by a choice of salt scrub or algae wrap to cleanse your skin of all the grime of travel, then an hour-long massage session to remove tension. Finally, there’s a 30 minute refresher facial. 

Cost: It depends on the hotel, but the Shangri-La package costs RMB1,680 (US$277) for two hours and 30 minutes.

Expert’s opinion: This may feel good, but is unlikely to actually shift your biological clock. However, it may help you relax and therefore sleep better, at least initially. 


Jet-Lag Rescue

What is it? A self-care app to help you correct your body’s internal clock using the traditional Chinese medical theory of the Meridian Clock. This follows the movement of the body's Qi (vital energy) from organ to organ along a specific time cycle. Thousands of years ago, ancient Chinese masters understood the body’s internal clock and developed the theory, which is not dissimilar to “circadian rhythm” theories found in western science today.

How it works? It calculates the two appropriate acupressure points to fit your body’s unique circadian rhythm. All you have to do is to enter your flight times and locations, and the app will show you what two points to massage to quickly and easily reset your own internal clock.

Cost: Download from itunes for US$3.99.

Expert’s opinion: There are no well-conducted studies to support the ability of pressure to shift the biological clock. However, it may help you relax and therefore sleep better, at least initially. 



What is it? It is a herb, the root of which is used to make medicine. It is most commonly used for sleep disorders.

How it works? Valerian does not relieve insomnia as fast as sleeping pills. Continuous use for several days, even up to four weeks, may be needed before an effect is noticeable. Thirty minutes before you sleep, you can take it in liquid or tablet form. Sometimes, valerian is added to bath water to help ease restlessness.

Cost: Around US$8.44 on Amazon.

Expert’s opinion: This is unlikely to shift your biological clock per se. However, it may help you relax and therefore sleep better, at least initially. I'd also mention here a possible role for the health supplement Melatonin and the prescription melatonin agonists Tasimelteon and Ramelteon in potentially facilitating adjustment to jet-lag. There is a good scientific rationale for their use, as well as some small human trials.

Images courtesy of Raul654; wikipedia

Valerian Ho

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