When customers enter Distant Lands book and travel supply store in Pasadena looking for jet-lag remedies, co-owner Louanne Kalvinskas points them to sleep masks, earplugs, neck rests and her favorite homeopathic remedy.
Like the scientists who study jet lag and other sleep problems, Kalvinskas knows, partly from experience, that not every remedy will work for every traveler.
On a trip to Istanbul with two friends, for instance, Kalvinskas took the homeopathic remedy called No-Jet-Lag; her friends did not. “We went out to dinner, and my friends were zombies,” she said, laughing at the memory. But she was full of energy.
Although researchers have made discoveries in recent years about minimizing the effects of jet lag, they still don't know why some travelers are more resilient than others. So the studies and the folklore continue.
Among the latest twists: the off-label use of Provigil, a “wake-promoting agent” designed for those with narcolepsy that's recently been approved for other sleep problems but not for jet lag; and the licensing of the anti-jet-lag diet by its developers at Argonne National Laboratory to a commercial site that will customize a plan for a fee.
Traditionally, scientists have said that jet lag happens when your brain's “clock” gets out of sync with the time at your destination. But two University of Virginia scientists say it is more complicated than that because other parts of the body, such as the liver and the spleen, also have body clocks that must re-regulate themselves to the destination time.
Gene Block and Michael Menaker, the scientists behind the research, suggest that travelers adjust mealtimes to the destination time a day or two before a trip to help reset the clocks in the digestive system if doing so won't disrupt a normal sleep schedule at home.
Provigil, the pill used to treat those with narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, is popular among some travelers trying to avoid jet lag, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved it for that purpose.
When his patients ask about the medication, Dr. John D. Cahill, a travel medicine specialist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, tells them, “It's not going to hurt and it might help, but it's not an end-all fix.” Most of the information on Provigil as a jet-lag remedy is anecdotal, and there is little scientific data on its effectiveness for jet lag, Cahill said.
A traveler needs a thorough physical before being prescribed Provigil, said Terri Rock, a Santa Monica physician specializing in travel medicine.
Some people swear by the anti-jet-lag diet, developed for shift workers in 1982 at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The plan requires eating different foods at different times to boost energy or wind down. But it doesn't win the nod of the National Sleep Foundation, which says in a publication on travel and sleep that the types of food we eat can't minimize jet lag.
The diet is discussed on the Argonne site at http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/gen99/gen99875.htm .
For a fee, you can have a diet plan built just for you ($10.95 one-way, $16.95 round-trip) at http://www.antijetlagdiet.com .
Travelers also can try exposure to natural light upon arrival at the destination and taking the hormone melatonin, which can help regulate circadian rhythms, said Al Lewy, vice chairman of the department of psychiatry at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, an expert on body clock research.