But there is a relatively simple, low-cost answer, called Jet-Ready: The Jet-Lag Solution, that can help overcome most of the effects of jet lag.
The system, as odd as some parts of it may seem, works if you follow the rules. I just tested it on a trip from the East Coast to London, which involved a five-hour time change. When I did what I was supposed to, I experienced virtually no jet lag. I also found that when I deviated seriously
from the system, I was a wreck.
Jet-Ready uses a computer program that adapts for an individual traveler information about jet lag first presented by Charles Ehret, a biological researcher, in his book The Jet-Lag Diet in the early 1980s. The computer program was written by William T. Ashton, a Woodside, Calif., programmer who sells Jet-Ready through travel agencies and to individual travelers.
Ehret, and other researchers, knew that food, caffeine, light, oxygen, exercise and social activity all affect a person's sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythms.
Ehret determined that most ill effects of jet lag could be overcome by using caffeine only at certain times of the day and by eating certain types of food at certain times. Exposure to daylight, staying active and functioning normally in the new time zone also helped.
In terms of diet, Jet-Ready calls for a traveler to get on a fairly easy- to-follow regimen four days before taking a flight. On the first and third days, the traveler is required to eat large meals, including high-protein breakfasts and high-carbohydrate dinners. On the second and fourth days, the soon-to-be traveler must eat lighter meals, low in carbohydrates and with about half of the normal caloric intake.
The use of caffeine strikes most people as strange. Under the plan I followed, the diet called for taking no caffeine during the first three days - except between 4:30 and 6 p.m. each day - and then only in moderate amounts. If you don't usually consume caffeine, it's recommended you avoid it completely on the Jet-Ready regimen.
If you are a caffeine user, on flight day you're required to drink two to three cups of black coffee during the evening - in my case, at dinner time as we flew across the Atlantic. That's to be accompanied by a light evening meal, lots of water and little or no alcohol. You also should reset your watch to the new local time you'll be on, and try to rest or sleep for the rest of the flight.
The meals recommended by Jet-Ready proved relatively easy to follow in the days before departure. Even though I regularly drink two or three cups of coffee a day, being deprived of my normal intake produced few ill effects.
On my flight, I was able to eat a fairly modest dinner and have two strong cups of coffee. But my work schedule aboard the plane allowed me to get only about two hours' sleep. About four hours after dinner - or the "next morning" on London time - I had a full breakfast, but no caffeine, before arriving.
On my first day in London, I functioned almost normally, working and talking to people, eating lunch and resisting the urge to perk up with a cup of coffee. Because of the key role caffeine plays in helping reset the body's clock, that would have been the worst thing to do, making me alert briefly before putting me to sleep.
There was only one period when I was in danger of nodding off; that was in the late afternoon on the first day, after several hours of indoor activity. But I managed to stay awake, ate a high-carbohydrate dinner and got to sleep about 10:30 p.m. London time.
The next morning, I awoke at 8:30 a.m., completely rested, and the truly remarkable part of the Jet-Ready system came into play. For the rest of my 12- day trip to England and Scotland, I felt no symptoms of jet lag whatever. It was as though I had always lived on Greenwich Mean Time.
On the way home, my experience was almost exactly the opposite. I didn't follow the Jet-Ready regimen because I forgot to bring the instructions. And I assumed that a westbound transatlantic flight, completely in daylight, would produce fewer jet-lag symptoms than an eastbound trip.
That assumption was a big mistake. For three days after returning home, my sleep-wake cycle was abnormal, forcing me to bed earlier than usual, and I suffered fatigue at various times of the day.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ashton will sell travel agents the Jet-Ready program on a floppy disk so they may prepare client itineraries. He'll provide prices upon request. Or he will sell an individual a one-time Jet-Ready itinerary, based on planned departure dates and times, for $25.
Jet-Ready Travel Services may be reached at (415) 851-4484, or by writing to 12672 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, Calif. 94062.