Understanding jet lag
To get the most out of these gadgets it is important to have a basic understanding of the root causes of jet lag. For a full explanation of the reasons for jet lag, I encourage you to listen to the excellent podcast from Huberman relating to jet lag, which deals with a range of issues relating to your body clock and references jet lag from minute 21 onwards.
There is an app for that …. Timeshifter
There is an app for almost everything these days, and jet lag is no exception. The main advantage of these apps is that they can help you easily apply the science to adjust the timing of your light exposure, caffeine intake etc. I used Timeshifter on a trip to Singapore earlier this year but there are many other jet lag apps available.
Timeshifter provides a personalised jet lag plan based on your sleep patterns, chronotype, and flight details. It offers specific recommendations for when to expose yourself to light and when to avoid it, when to drink caffeine and has the option of a melatonin intake schedule. The first trip is often free and after that you can subscribe or pay for a single return trip.
Light therapy glasses
You will understand from the Huberman podcast and the Timeshifter app that strategic exposure to sunlight is an essential part of smoothing jet lag, but often a dose of light is needed when there is no natural daylight - this is where light therapy glasses can help. These wearable devices emit light that simulates natural sunlight. I used Re-Timer glasses but many other models are available. You can also simulate light exposure with your mobile device, using the screen on full brightness but this is not as effective or controllable as dedicated glasses. The Re-Timer glasses came with their own instructions to reduce jet lag symptoms but I did not find them as helpful as the Timeshifter instructions.
Quality sleep is crucial when battling jet lag, and noise-cancelling headphones can be of great assistance, particular on a long flight. These can be combined with smartphone apps such as Calm or Headspace which are designed to promote better sleep and include features like white noise, soothing sounds, guided meditation, and relaxation exercises to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
Low tech solutions
You can also use earplugs, eye masks and neck pillows to help get good quality rest when needed.
Controlled eating and drinking
Another tool to consider is your intake of food and drink. I appreciate that this may be a step too far for some but alcohol should be avoided before, during and immediately after the flight as it has a significant impact on our body clock. Ideally you should also fast for 12 to 16 hours, timing the fast so that your first meal is at breakfast time on the first day in your new timezone.
London to Singapore and back
Singapore was a fantastic location for the INTA conference this year but, even when blessed with a direct flight from London, the 13-hour flight and 8-hour time difference wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Timeshifter allows you to enter your normal waking time, destination and flight details. It immediately provides an easy-to-use schedule, starting 3 days before departure and ending 3 days after your return.
Ideal times for light exposure, sleep and caffeine are provided. You can also choose to get input on the timing of melatonin intake but I did not use that, partly because the science doesn’t support it and partly because you cannot easily buy melatonin in the UK! The timing of light exposure is essential and this is where the light therapy glasses come into their own.
The outward trip west to east required a gradual movement of the body clock to an earlier time, and each day Timeshifter asked me to get up an hour earlier than the day before, and go to bed an hour earlier. For those of you who experience daylight saving changes, it was a bit like the clocks moving forward by an hour, but that happened on three days in a row. Light exposure is needed on waking, along with caffeine. On the day of the flight I got up at 3am without feeling too bad. I could probably have worked out the timing to this point, but the Timeshifter app was particularly helpful in planning the timings of light etc. during the flight as this is not intuitive and will vary significantly depending on the details of the journey particularly if you do not have a direct flight. The adjustment schedule continued for the first few days after arrival but it was harder to follow due to fixed commitments at INTA, particularly in the evenings.
The process on the way back was similar, with a gradual shift towards later mornings and later nights ready for the west-bound flight.
Following the Timeshifter app as closely as possible, and using the light therapy glasses, led to a significant reduction in the effects of jet lag, allowing me to move into the new timezone relatively easily. The days leading up to the trip were mildly unpleasant, but it felt like this process was a way of spreading out the pain rather than taking it in one hit, and the return to the UK was much easier than usual. I took some significant stick from colleagues (you know you are) for wearing the light therapy glasses on the flight, but I was vindicated a couple of weeks later when pictures of the England Women’s football team wearing similar glasses on a flight appeared in the papers.
I have used controlled eating and drinking on previous trips, and this is beneficial but not to the same extent as the targeted exposure to light.
There are a number of things that you can do to reduce your jet lag, and they can have a material effect. I strongly encourage you to embrace these options and share your experience with me on LinkedIn!
Returning to the title of the article, can knitting needles help you avoid jet lag? No, of course not, but my mother once claimed that knitting was a complete solution to her jet lag and we never argue with our mothers, do we?
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