In this day and age, air travel has never been easier or more accessible. An increasing amount of people in Hong Kong are travelling overseas, whether it is for business, education or simply a good old fashioned vacation. Don’t believe me? Visit Chek Lap Kok some time! It is a hectic scene, full of arrivals and departures from the Hong Kong International Airport.
The benefits of international travel are amazing, and I really only have two regrets on the subject: the first is that my busy schedule at the gym means I can’t head overseas as much as I’d like, and the second is jet lag. There is really nothing to be done on the first point, as we all know that, as great as travel may be, work and family responsibilities must come first. Instead, lets focus on the second point – jet lag.
We all know the feeling. We’ve touched down in a different time zone, and we feel fatigued, confused or unaware. The process can last for days as we struggle to adapt. Our genes have been thrown off their normal rhythms, which can induce stress and harmfully impact memory and learning ability. What is really happening, though, is that we are suddenly hit with a massive disruption to our internal body clocks. The process is uncomfortable to say the least, but can also negatively impact our health, particularly when travelling west to east.
Before giving some of the jet-lag beating tips I’ve picked up over the years, lets look at what our body clocks actually do so we can understand why jet lag occurs.
Our ‘body clock’, in scientific terms, is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. It contains cells which turn off and on depending on the time of day and instruct other parts of the body accordingly. Naturally, an abrupt change in time zones is bound to wreak havoc on this system that keeps us in tune with the pattern of day and night and affects hunger, mood and blood pressure.
One of the main regulators of our body clock is the sun. Because of this, Dr. Smith L. Johnston, chief of the fatigue management team at NASA, claims it takes a day for our bodies to adjust to just one time zone shift, so traveling across the globe by plane can understandably create a lot of chaos.
Recently, researchers studied jet lag in mice, and came to some interesting conclusions. Like us, mice have an interal body clock and jet lag occurred when a brake like process inside the brain reacted to light. A huge number of genes were activated when the mice’s time zone was pushed back six hours, but a protein called SIK1, operating like a brake, went and shut them all off. This study suggested that reducing the function of SIK1 could help the mice adjust to the time shift without jet lag.
Perhaps there is some hope for a jet lag ‘pill’ of some kind in the future, but for now, I’ll leave you with some of my tips for getting out of jet lag.
One of the simplest tips is to just adjust your schedule prior to departure. If you are travelling east of Hong Kong, try to go to sleep earlier for a few days before you leave, while doing the opposite when travelling west. You can use sleep aids such as melatonin or magnesium supplements to ease this process. Of course, this is much more relevant for those traveling for pleasure – it is difficult to adjust schedules in this manner for business trips, as nodding off early or sleeping in may not be an option.
One thing business travellers leaving Hong Kong can do, however, is adjust their light exposure. Some experts claim this is the most effective way to combat jet lag, due to the suns influence over our body clocks. By seeking out/avoiding light in a way that matches the time zone you are about to visit. This will gradually coach your body clock to be prepared for the eventual time shift. There are even apps available which help manage light for this purpose. Entrain, an iOS app developed by a team at the University of Michigan, is a great option.
Another option, as mentioned earlier, is to obtain some type of over the counter sleep aid. Personally, I would advise against this. However, I would certainly recommend boosting magnesium via a supplement or modified diet –for jet lag but also for improved sleep quality in general. (LINK TO MAGNESIUM ARTICLE?)
There is also the option to simply stay on Hong Kong time. This method could be trouble if you are travelling to North America, Australia or Europe, but when travelling within Asia, where the time shift is not as abrupt, it can be the easiest solution. This is particularly relevant to business travellers – if you are only going away to Tokyo for a night, it seems senseless to put yourself through jet lag, as the time change/light difference is not very noticeable to begin with.
These are just a few of my personal favourites and I hope you find them useful the next time you travel for business or pleasure.
Do you have other tips or suggestions for your fellow Hong Kong travellers? Let us know in the comments!