Many of my patients travel and struggle with jet lag. Sleep medicine provides tools to address jet lag, which represents a misalignment of our circadian rhythms with light-dark cycles. Synching internal with external rhythms requires manipulation of sleep schedule, light, and melatonin. For this blog, I will provide recommendations for a flight eastward over 6 time zones. Philadelphia to London qualifies.
Before you leave, advance your wake and bedtime by about ½ hour per day for about 4 days. Get a bright light in the morning. Avoid bright light when possible after dinner.
To sleep on the plane, consider eyeshades, sunglasses, and earplugs. On your first night of travel (including on the plane), take melatonin around 7 pm east coast time. If you plan to use a prescription sleep aid, make sure you test it out at home before using it on the plane.
Wear sunglasses until 4 am Philly/10 AM London time. Then maximize light until 6 PM London time. Take melatonin about an hour before you wish to go to bed. Expect to have some trouble falling asleep. The next day, try to avoid bright light until 9 am or so. Then, maximize bright light until early evening, and take melatonin before bed. If you happen to be making another eastward hop, aim to continue to take melatonin before bed in each time zone.
The last few days of the trip, get bright light after dinner and try to stay out late. Sleep if you can on the flight. The first day home, get as much light as you can between 3 pm and 9 pm. Minimize light between 11 pm and 6 am. The next few days, maximize evening light and minimize morning light.