As part of my job I have to travel around the globe to stay competitive. Many of you may know what this is like. You endure long flights in cramped environments to meet your clients where they are. When you get there, you suffer from jet lag. Yet, you can’t use jet lag as an excuse for your fatigue and brain fog. You have to perform at your best no matter what.
Last year, I flew from Houston, Texas, to Equatorial Guinea, West Africa – a time zone shift of +6.0 hours. I normally fall asleep before 10 PM each night, but in West Africa, I was awake past 2 AM for a week straight. The severe jet lag left me with only four hours of poor-quality sleep.
The lack of sleep combined with high stress from impending deadlines tapped my energy and left me frazzled. I did manage to complete my projects, but I never stopped feeling like a zombie.
Since then, I discovered a simple and natural method of combating jet lag. Today, I use this cure-all approach to overcoming jet lag every time I travel.
Your body has an internal clock, aka the circadian rhythm. Like all diurnal creatures, our clock is synchronized with sunlight, which explains why people are awake when it is light out and asleep when it is dark.
The chart below illustrates the circadian rhythm over the span of 24 hours:
I’d like to bring your attention to two important times in the chart above:
07:30 (7:30 AM): Melatonin secretion stops
21:00 (9:00 PM): Melatonin secretion starts
The magic of melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone, released by your body at night – around 9 PM. When melatonin is released into your bloodstream, it causes you to feel relaxed, tired, and ready for bed. From this time onwards, until early morning, melatonin levels remain high to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Once you’re exposed to daylight, melatonin levels decrease to negligible amounts. The dramatic drop in melatonin levels associated with sunlight helps explain why blogger James Clear is adamant about getting outside first thing in the morning. It’s KEY to you feeling alert and prepared to start your day.
The tricky part is getting exposure to daylight while traveling. This is where technology steps in.
Introducing Entrain, my secret weapon for beating jet-lag
Entrain is an iPhone app that helps travellers overcome jet lag in the quickest time possible. The app is based on research that was partly funded by the US Air Force and uses mathematical models to build a personalised light/dark to resync your body clock after crossing multiple time zones.
According to the developers, Entrain “connects users to lighting schedules developed by researchers at the University of Michigan. These schedules are mathematically proven to adjust you to new time zones as quickly as possible. Light is the primary driving input to the circadian clock, and by recording your lighting history, we can stimulate your body’s clock and make recommendations for behavior.”
In short, Entrain helps you determine when to get the proper light exposure to start feeling normal as quickly as possible.
Entrain’s interface is intuitive, allowing you to set up your profile in minutes. Upon installing Entrain, you’ll be prompted to take an optional tour of the app.
The ‘Walkthrough’ will educate you about the circadian rhythm and provide a quick tutorial on how to use the application. Next, you’ll be asked three questions:
What time do you wake up?
What time do you go to sleep?
How much light exposure do you get?
Entering precise times and allocating exact light exposure by lux is not the goal here. Simply enter your best guesstimate and get started. You can adjust your settings at any time.
A real world example
Let’s say I had another trip to Equatorial Guinea. This time, I will use Entrain’s lighting recommendations to ensure I adjust quicker to my new time zone than I did last time.
Based on the entered data, Entrain tells me I’ll be able to shift my circadian rhythm in four days – versus six – if I stick to an optimal lighting schedule. Two days may not sound like much, but if you’ve had jet lag before, you know how much you’ll appreciate a shorter recovery time.
[Side note: in the screenshot above, I set my ‘Brightest light’ setting to ‘Bright indoor’ light. If I am able to get exposure to low or bright outdoor light, the app tells me I can expedite my recovery to three or two days, respectively.]
Once I land in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, I should follow the schedule below. Notice that Entrain recommends a progressively earlier exposure to light, followed by dark periods, to speed up my recovery time from jet lag.
Getting proper sunlight exposure is key to instant and all-day energy. Conversely, getting proper dark time is essential. In the evening, be sure to close your curtains, dim your lights, and refrain from using electronics one hour prior to bedtime.
Finally, I highly recommend using a sleep mask. Creating a dark environment will trigger the release of melatonin and assist with resetting your circadian rhythm for a faster recovery from the worst of jet lags.