Modafinil: The Ultimate Cure For Jet Lag?
The first time I really suffered due to jet lag was six years ago.
I’d been delighted for the invite to give a talk in Ireland, but I didn’t appreciate how much the 10-hour flight would take out of me physically and mentally.
I felt like a bit of a zombie when I arrived in Dublin Airport, and I had to give my presentation the next morning.
I couldn’t sleep that night because my body insisted that it was still daytime.
I somehow muddled through my talk, but it could have been so much better if I wasn’t so tired and disorientated.
I’ve given a few more talks around the world since then, but I now take precautions to minimize the effects of jet lag.
After my first experience of how disruptive jet lag can be on the body, I decided to do some research.
There is plenty of great information available online in forums or travel hacking podcasts, but I suspect a lot of it is just people repeating what they’ve read elsewhere rather than talking from personal experience.
I’ve put this post together based on my own experiments of what works and what doesn’t.
I’m going to discuss new solutions – such as nootropic supplements – because these offer exciting new ways to overcome the symptoms of jet lag.
I think it is also important to mention what doesn’t work because some ‘cures’ can actually make the problem worse.
Why is Overcoming Jet Lag Important?
I’ve already shared my story of how jet lag prevented me from giving a decent presentation, but it is really something most travelers need to worry about? It is.
Whether you’re traveling for business or going on vacation, you don’t want to waste a couple of days of precious time because you are too tried to do anything.
The number of people traveling around the world due to work commitments is also on the increase (business travel is expected to increase by 1.6% in 2014, and if you fall into this category, you may need to be on top-form when you arrive at your destination.
The symptoms of jet lag can really take the fun out of arriving somewhere new because they include:
- Tiredness (sometimes extreme)
- Loss of appetite
- Fuzzy thinking
- Irritability (not good if you are trying to make a good impression)
- Coordination problems ( I once fell off a barstool after a long flight, and I hadn’t been drinking alcohol)
Don’t Try These! The Least Effective Strategies for Dealing With Jet Lag
I remember years ago I had to endure an 18-hour flight to Bangkok, and I decided the best solution would be to drink lots of beers before getting on the plane.
I hoped this would mean that I’d sleep most of the way there. Bad mistake.
I felt drunk on the plane but unable to sleep – every time I started getting sleepy, I’d need to get up to go to the toilet.
It turned out to be a hellish journey. I had a bad hangover when we landed at Don Muang, and I felt physically drained for the first few days of my holiday.
Alcohol is one of the least helpful strategies for jet lag because it leads to dehydration.
This is bad news because some of the symptoms of jet lag are already due to the dry conditions within the cabin of an aircraft. Alcohol is making the situation worse.
Even a couple of beers can make it harder to achieve REM sleep, so this means any sleep on the plane is not going to be as restive as it should be.
Arriving at your destination with a hangover as well as jet lag isn’t going to improve the situation.
On top of that, alcohol compounds circulation issues, so it’s not a great idea to be drinking and sitting for long periods.
Studies show that drinking can increase your risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis. In other words, it may cause your blood to clot – the last thing I’d want on vacation!
Self-induced food coma
I read somewhere that eating lots of food in the airport and on the airplane could ease they symptoms of jet lag.
This theory made sense to me because I always feel sleepy after a large meal. I experimented with this solution on one of my trips and it didn’t help all that much.
I just felt slightly ill, and it gave me indigestion, so I couldn’t sleep.
It turns out that most experts agree that eating large meals is a bad idea when going on long-haul flights because it messes up the body clock even further.
Medication (personal preference)
Using sleeping tablets such as Ambien is a popular solution for jet lag, but I wasn’t particularly impressed by the results.
It didn’t feel like I got natural sleep, and I still ended up feeling groggy for the first few days.
5 Effective Solutions for Avoiding the Symptoms of Jet Lag
The one thing that became obvious to me when I started researching jet lag solutions is what works for one person might not work for somebody else.
I found hundreds of solutions, but I discounted most of them because they sounded impractical (at least in my case) or just too quirky (e.g. homeopathic cures).
Here are a few of the solutions I found to be most effective.
1. Sleep timing
Changing your sleeping pattern before you travel means that you can already be orientated to the time zone by the time you arrive.
If there is a three-hour difference between you home and your new location, you can begin going to bed one hour earlier on each of the three days before the trip.
I found this solution to be very effective, but going to bed earlier each night isn’t always practical – it would also mean going to bed in the afternoon in order to be ready for the time difference between the US and Europe or Asia.
2. Light therapy
Light therapy is another solution for jet lag that is supported by a lot of frequent flyers.
If I’m arriving in a foreign country during the daytime, I’ll try to go for a walk outside.
Apparently, it is best to do this while not wearing sun glasses because this allows the light to have more of an impact.
Being out in the sun forces the body to adjust to the new time zone because light plays an important role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
It is also possible to use an artificial light source but natural sunlight is best.
3. Paying for comfort
Traveling business class – or better yet, first class – is likely to mean a more comfortable and restive trip.
It may make it easier to fall asleep for a few hours on the flight. Of course, there is also a strong temptation to indulge in the free champagne/wine and eat too much.
Traveling business class is also not going to eliminate the negative effects caused by the dry air of the cabin. Still, this is a good option for reducing the effects of jet lag if you can afford it.
4. Time zone
I change my watch to the time at the destination, and I try to plan my meals and sleep pattern while travelling based on this.
I also try to pretend that the time on my watch is correct, so if it is morning at my destination, I act as if it is morning on the airplane – so for example, I’ll go into the bathroom and freshen myself up.
Whereas over-eating made makes me groggy and tired, I’ve found that mild fasting before flying works really well to prevent jet lag.
It’s as if my body adapts more quickly to new time zones when it doesn’t have to deal with a stomach full of food.
Other travelers have similar insights. The Points Guy talks about fasting as jet lag prevention in this post, saying:
Most Europe-bound flights are in the evening, so fasting during the day would help your body prepare for its new time zone.
You need to fast for about 16 hours for the food-regulators to take over.
Granted, a 16-hour fast is an extreme example, but hey, think of all those baguettes and café au laits you’ll enjoy in France once you arrive.
Can Nootropics Help Prevent or Overcome Jet Lag?
Nootropics (aka smart drugs) offer such an intriguing way of dealing with jet lag that I’ve decided to deal with them separately. It refers to a class of substances that are known to improve mental functioning.
The idea of taking drugs in an attempt to avoid jet lag isn’t new – people have been using sleeping tablets for years – but nootropics provide some exciting possibilities.
1. Sleep better with melatonin
Melatonin is hormone that plays an important role in regulating the internal rhythm of the body.
It is produced by the pineal gland, and it is controls the sleep-awake cycle – when this hormone is released in the body, it triggers sleepiness.
Studies have shown that melatonin supplements are effective for reducing jet lag for people who are traveling across five or more time zones. It is usually best to take this drug after dark for the first few days after arriving at a new destination.
2. Wake up faster with Modafinil
Modafinil is a nootropic that is commonly used to help people who work the night-shift, and can also to be useful when it comes to dealing with some of the symptoms of jet lag.
Modafinil works by reducing the uptake of dopamine in the brain, thus promoting wakefulness and alertness
It provides a solution for people who need to be mentally functioning at a high level after arriving at a foreign destination.
And flyers agree, as is evident from these comments on FlyerTalk.com, a popular travel-hacking and frequent flyer forum:
I was pleasantly surprised. Seems more benign that a cup of coffee.
You do not get jitterery and if the dose is right no fast heart beat. It doesn’t speed you up.
It just makes you forget you are tired for a few hours. 100 mg taken about 8 in the morning-makes you feel Ok till about 5 or 6 pm.
Then, you don’t crash hard-you just feel tired again.
I actually found it more helpful for the jet lag after I got back. I took it for the first two days and I was able to go into the office and not be a zombie.
Delighted by Modafinil’s effects, I wondered if others shared my experience. I reached out to fellow entrepreneurs and travelers to see who, if anyone, was using modafinil for jet lag.
Nate Ginsburg, an Amazon Ecommerce consultant, got back to me in a few days and recounted his experience with modafinil while traveling. I asked Nate, “Does modafinil help you get over jet lag?” His response:
Short answer: yes. Modafinil helps start me off on the right foot, reset my schedule. Regardless of where your body clock is, modafinil helps get you back on track so that you can explore a new city and settle into a productive work routine.
Taken together with my own experience, comments from fellow travelers like Nate are why modafinil is the go-to supplement cure for jet lag when I jet set.
Relax with L-theanine
L-theanine another substance that may help you get a good sleep on your first night at your new destination.
It’s an amino acid commonly found in green tea, but it has also become a popular supplement because of its effectiveness as a stress-buster, mood lifter, and cognitive enhancer.
One of the nootropic benefits of l-theanine is that it increases alpha waves in the brain which means a more restive sleep, and reduced anxiety in unfamiliar situations.
If you’re visiting a new city or country for the first time, it’s common to have a little culture shock. L-theanine is a great way to calm those nerves so you can get out, meet new friends, and explore the world.
Conclusion: try a few
If you get jet lag often, then you know it can damper your travel plans.
I’ve shared a few strategies that work for me, and some that don’t work. Nootropics and other health supplements offer a simple and effective solution for dealing with jet lag symptoms.
I hope you try at least one of these methods for curing jet lag, and if you have suggestions for jet lag cures, I’m sure the Corpina community would be very thankful. Please add it in the comments below!
- A Battle Plan for Jet Lag – NY Times Travel
- Strategies for Beating Jet Lag – FlyerTalk Forum
- Melatonin and Jet Lag – FlyerTalk
- Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep – Harvard Sleep Medicine
- Crewed Talk: My Jet Lag Strategy – FlyerTalk