How to overcome jet lag according to a Sleep Expert

To celebrate the renewal of our partnership with the British Athletes Commission (BAC), we put athletes’ questions on sleep in a Q&A to Mammoth ambassador and renowned Lecturer in Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford, Dr Nicola Barclay, who explained how to combat jet lag when travelling in different time zones. 

BAC: Obviously, a lot of athletes will be flying over to Japan this summer, and that will definitely require shifting in time difference and obviously jet lag as well. So are there any interventions that athletes can put in place, and staff as well, but once they start that trip over to

NB: Yeah, sure. Now, it’s first important to understand that it is easier to travel west than it is to travel east. So that’s not great with travelling from the UK to Japan. And this is because travelling west requires us to extend our day, go to bed later, which we can relatively easily control, whereas when we are travelling east, it requires us to get to sleep at an earlier clock time, a time when we just not sleepy yet.

So let’s just imagine we’re travelling from the U.K. to Japan. So according to our U.K. body clock, we might arrive in Japan, say, around 1:00 p.m. But according to the local time in Japan, it’s already 10:00 p.m. bed time, according to the clock. We’ll find it really hard to get to sleep for the night when our internal clock still thinks it’s 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. When we travel home from Japan, so it’ll be a little bit easier on the first day home we will simply stay up later than usual. So that’s where we have to delay our rhythm.

Now we can delay our biological clock by around one and a half hours per day in the new time zone. But to phase advance when we travel east, we can only achieve a one hour phase shift per day. So if we’re travelling east from the U.K. to Japan, which is nine hours ahead, it will take us nine days to fully adjust, that is to fully advanced our rhythm to the new time zone. If we’re travelling west, back home from Japan to the U.K., we’ll be able to phase delay our rhythm to the new time zone within six days.

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