Monday, April 28, 2008

Fighting jet lag

Greetings from Madrid! Sandra and I are here promoting the Spanish translation, Entra en tu cerebro. We're doing a media blitz, two days here and one day in Barcelona - television, radio, magazines, and newspapers. The Spanish like brain books! It's also a chance for us to put our knowledge of jet lag into practice.

Your brain has a clock in a region called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN for short). This region sets the circadian rhythm, a time-of-day signal that is sent to the rest of the brain and your other organs. The SCN gets its signals from the eye, and is gradually set by changes in the light-dark cycle. In the morning, a dose of light will make you get up earlier the next day ("phase advancing"). Conversely, evening light will make you get up later ("phase delaying"). This suggests several principles.

Sleep while you can. Physical activity does not affect the circadian rhythm. Therefore there's no point in forcing yourself to stay awake at your destination. It will just make you sleep-deprived. If you feel tired, sleep. In addition to natural sleep, I take Ambien to force myself to sleep when it's nighttime.

Get afternoon light. When it's afternoon here in Madrid, it's morning back in Princeton (and early morning in California, where Sandra lives). Light at this time will advance our clocks, getting us up a little earlier tomorrow. Tomorrow, we'll be shifted toward local time by several hours. Then the best time to get light will be mid-day, and so on.

When we go back home, the best time to get light is still afternoon. Why? Because our SCNs will think it's evening, and evening light will cause us to get up later the next day - exactly what we want when we are traveling west.

Melatonin and exercise. Your brain secretes melatonin near bedtime, and melatonin helps you sleep. You can take melatonin. Or, if you don't have any handy, get some exercise. Exercise triggers melatonin secretion. So a workout in the evening may help you drift off.

Now pardon me while I go hydrate (another good thing to do) and take a little nap.

No comments: