by RACHEL TSAO
It’s that time of the year when international students start flying back to campus. And you know what that means? Jet lag. (Funnily, I am currently writing this at 5am, in a desperate attempt to find something to do after four hours of tossing and turning on the bed). It’s easy to believe that hopping across time zones, for us international students especially, is an inherent life skill. But the fatigue and drowsiness that come with it are no fun. And as if that’s not bad enough, prolonged jet lag has also been found to reduce learning and memory, and induce stress.  Thus, it is crucial that we alleviate these jet lag symptoms as quickly as possible.
But first, what is jet lag?
We have an internal body clock that naturally programs us to do a number of things during a 24-hour period, such as eating and sleeping. It is composed of a small group of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, which essentially informs our body what to do depending on what time it is. These built-in routines are called circadian rhythms, and after a long-haul flight, they become disrupted. Jet lag, as a result, is a series of symptoms that occur when this built-in body clock is thrown off.
How to beat jet lag
There’s really only one way to avoid jet lag symptoms, and that is to adjust faster to the new time zone. Here are some tips that have been shown to help alleviate jet lag symptoms (which I will definitely be using over the next couple of days).
1. Use caffeine with caution
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, sodas, and energy drinks can increase daytime alertness by improving memory, attention, and perception.  However, avoid caffeine a few hours before bedtime as it will only increase jet lag recovery time. The safest way is to drink lots of water throughout the day.
2. Keep on movin’
Working out may be the last thing you want to do after being on a 13-hour flight. However, exercise has been shown to help re-synchronize body and reduce the symptoms of jet lag. A study from 1987 even found that hamsters that went on the running wheel took only a day and a half to adjust to a new time zone, as opposed to eight days for those that did no exercise. 
3. Eat right
Be sure to eat regular, evenly spaced meals throughout the day. This means having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with four to five hours in between, even if you’re feeling tired. A recent study found that the regularity of meals is what has an effect on jet lag, not adhering to a particular schedule that matches up to your time zone. 
4. Hunt for the sun
Get as much sunlight as you can. During the day when your eyes register light exposure, the retina transmits signals to the SCN. The SCN uses this information to adapt the body’s circadian rhythm according to the light-dark cycles of the environment. 
5. Take melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally produces when it is dark. Melatonin supplements may therefore help reset your biological clock by tricking your body that it is nighttime, helping you fall asleep. 
Unfortunately, jet lag happens all the time and there is no one way to completely prevent its symptoms. However, we can at least try to speed up our body’s adaptation to the new environment. And before you know it, traveling long distances may also become a life skill of yours.
- “Chronic 'jet lag' produces temporal lobe atrophy and spatial cognitive deficits.” Nat. Neurosci. (2001).
- “Jet lag.” Phys Ther. (2011).
- “Hamster jet lag: Running it off.” Sci News. (1987).
- “Meal timing regulates the human circadian system.” Curr Biol. (2017)