Light therapy and Jet Lag: TESTED

A trip to New Zealand, a couple of SAD lamps, the perfect opportunity to test out the light therapy idea and how it may or may not help with Jet lag.

With a trip to New Zealand and a World Championships race to do within 24 hours of arrival, I decided to look into light therapy and how it might help me to combat jet lag.

Background reading

I managed to contact a scientist, to get some background and advice. His name is Greg Atkinson, and he is a senior lecturer in the school for health, Durham University. He said he has done some research into the effects of light exposure on jet lag symptoms (a flight over only 5 time zones) and is currently researching early morning dawn simulation light exposure. I am reading his book, which is also a very interesting read.

A Cyclical World

Think of the world we live in. It is intrinsically cyclical. The most obvious is day and night, but even so, we have a body clock. Day is warmer, night colder, in the day we eat, in the night we sleep, the list would go on and on. The way our bodies operate also reflects this. Our core temperature is cooler at night, in fact, that is what we rely on to help us sleep. Our digestion system slows down at night: you do not wake at night as many times as you visit the bathroom during the day, for example.

Scientists have found that when time related cues are removed, we have a natural body clock of about 25 hours. This might explain why some of us are ‘larks’ and some ‘owls’. are you a morning or a night person?

Can you adjust your own body clock?

Waterhouse et al say you can.

If you want to become a morning person, you might make evenings dim and relaxing. If you wanted to become an evening person you might become mentally and physically active during the evening.

How to combat jet lag

So, if you can adjust the body clock, then you should be able to adjust and not suffer jet lag? Here is where our test came in.

What we did:

  • We both travelled to New Zealand, I prepared in advance using light therapy, my husband Mark did not do anything different. New Zealand is 13 hours in front of UK time. It was 12 hours in front when we travelled (the clocks went back while we were away!)
  • For the three weeks before the flight I got up an hour earlier each week, and went to bed an hour earlier, to an accumulative total of 3 hours earlier up, 3 hours earlier to bed by the third week. Work and real life limited me moving the times by any more than this.
  • In the morning, I was woken up by a sunrise alarm clock, and then sat in front of a sad lamp for an hour or two.
  • I read that sitting in front of a sad lamp in the evening can delay sleep. As I was trying to delay / advance my body clock, I also started to do this too in weeks two and three.
  • During the flight I immediately adopted the time at my destination, and slept according to this, difficult at times, because this is not what the cabin crew were doing!
  • I travelled with a portable SAD lamp, which I turned on for an hour each morning when I got to New Zealand.
  • If I woke early, I did not get up, I lay quietly sometimes managing to get back to sleep, till it was the correct time to get up. For me, this was usually only an hour in the morning.
  • Although there were times that I felt tired, I did not sleep unless it was night time. I did this both in New Zealand and in the UK.
  • When we flew back to the UK, on arrival I once again used my sunrise alarm clock and SAD lamp.

What did we notice?

  • I was able to sleep through most of the night from as soon as I arrived in New Zealand. Mark had interrupted sleep, and kept waking up at 1-2am for the first 3-4 days.
  • I felt ok throughout the day, Mark felt incredibly tired by about 6pm each day for the first 4 days or so. This would tie in with the research I read, as it is stated that the worst local time at destination for activity is 17:00-23:00 as it delays the body clock from adjusting to the new time. This was definitely the times Mark struggled with most.
  • On return to the UK, again, I was ok from the outset, sleeping patterns pretty normal, whereas Mark struggled with sleeping patterns for the first week or so, feeling very tired in the middle of the day, and waking up at 1am.

Other factors

The thing that I did notice, which due to work / life constrictions was I was not able to address was bowel movement and digestion system. It took that around a week to get back into sync with the correct day and night times at both ends of the flight. What would I do differently next time? Perhaps consider moving the meal times as well as the get up / sleep times and see if that helps.


Can light therapy help combat jet lag? Hell yes!! I raced less than 24 hours after arriving, I am pretty sure I would have been asleep at 2pm if I had not prepared for the jet lag! I did not wake up constantly and regularly like Mark did, either in New Zealand or in the UK. In fact, I began to poke fun at him and suggested he too try light therapy, as he became frustrated that he could not sleep through the night.

I felt that the effects of jet lag, for me, were minimal. I also used light therapy when I travelled to China last year, and that too was incredibly successful.

I will be continuing to use light therapy throughout the winter, and am looking forward to reading the rest of Greg Atkinson’s book.

One Comment on “Light therapy and Jet Lag: TESTED

  1. Pingback: NoBloPoMo: Summary of topics covered this November « Melanie Ryding – Ryding2Health BLOG

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