New jetlag drug causes a stir

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The older I get, the more I’m affected by jet lag, which is not a good thing for someone who makes his living in the travel industry.

Over the years, I’ve tried every drug from Ambien to Xanax; gone the homeopathic route with melatonin and herbs; tried starving myself, avoided alcohol, and experimented with caffeine. I’ve tried sleeping with hotel room drapes open and taking long walks in the sunshine upon arriving. I even tested an oversized visor with a battery-operated light under the bill that was supposed to offer some sort of “light therapy.”

The sad news is that none of them really worked. I still get that prickly, woozy, sweaty feeling on my first few days overseas. I sleep soundly for an hour or so, then lie awake in bed for the rest of the night, and then feel sorta hollow the next day. YUCK!

So every time I hear about a new substance or practice (other than denial) that might help ease the pain of jetlag, I’m eager to learn more.

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Introducing Nuvigil

There was much talk among the international travel crowd this month when the New York Times ran a story about a new jetlag drug called Nuvigil, on the market since last June.

Nuvigil is not a sleeping pill. Instead, it is a stimulant that travelers can take to treat the daytime sleepiness associated with jetlag—it does NOT help shift the body’s clock to a new time zone. (Nuvigil and its precursor, Provigil, are frequently used by people who suffer from narcolepsy and sleep apnea.)

Nuvigil’s maker, Cephalon, has plans to sell the drug to frequent business travelers—those who might pop over to Europe for a couple of days of meetings and then return. The Times article reports that in clinical trials among adults flying to Paris from the east coast, those who took Nuvigil did not nod off during the day as quickly as those who took a placebo.

I asked physician Jim Braude, who travels to Europe several times each year, for some insight and he said, “These drugs work by somehow stimulating the brain (although the mechanism is not clearly defined), and can cause heart palpitations and raise blood pressure. So as much as I personally want to eliminate jet lag, I’m not ready to try these given the risk/benefit formula.”

Several readers have used Provigil, but not the new Nuvigil. TravelSkills reader Matt reports, “I use Provigil. It works well at keeping you up with out giving you the jitters. I can see how it can help when you first get some place and need to make it through the first few days until you get adapted to the new time zone.”

Another reader, MG, wrote, “I have used Provigil for almost a year now, and find it to be a ‘miracle’ drug for jetlag as well as many other ailments. It is astonishing! Somewhat like a stimulant in its results, it has almost no side effects and is a completely beneficial option for dealing with stresses to both the body and mind. Insurance companies (mine, two different ones) are reluctant to pay for it and it is quite expensive.”

Hmmm. I’d still like to try Nuvigil, but I think I’d experiment first on a trip that did NOT include an important meeting.

Since I’m alway curious to try anything to help with my jet lag issues,  I’m considering trying a new herbal concoction for an upcoming trip to Tokyo made by Mountain View acupuncturist and herbalist Ted Ray. He says he’s “tested his Jet Lag Formula on Silicon Valley executives for about seven years  and almost all notice an improvement in how they feel in the days after arrival– though some more than others.” The formula consists of a round of capsules containing a cocktail of various herbs that you take before during and after your flight.

How about YOU? How do you deal with jetlag?

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  • William Rogers

    Nuvigil and provigil are the same thing. Not near the same thing but exactly the same thing. Provigil works like nothing else you have ever tried. Side effects are minimal at worst.

  • Chris Shipley

    Full disclosure: I’m on the board of FlyRight, the maker of Jet Lag Formula. I’m on the board because I started using the product long before Ted decided to create a commercial version of it. The product was so effective that I encouraged him to pursue the business and have been actively promoting the product since.

    I travel to Europe or Asia about 10 times a year and would arrive feeling terrible and usually develop a debilitating migraine. In fact, I had begun adding a day to the front end of my trip for the sole purpose of migraine recovery. Since I began using JLF, I have not suffered a travel-induced migraine. I typically experience little or no jet lag. It’s an outstanding product, highly effective, without side affects that other drugs often have.

  • Ted Ray

    As both the creator of the formula Chris mentions and as a frequent traveler, I have to agree with (some of) the suggestions above, especially those around diet restrictions, a short nap upon arrival, and trying to adjust in advance to new time zones. But, Jet Lag is still a topic of discussion b/c no one method works for everyone.

    My product is also NOT a silver bullet, but it is designed to reduce some of the damage that occurs in the airplane environment from the dry pressurized cabin to very low levels of radiation from the atmosphere and plane itself. Some of the herbs in the formula (reishi, ginkgo, hawthorn, eleuthero root aka siberian ginseng) have clinical evidence supports the formula claims around immunity, energy, and circulation.

    My primary opinion is that no one thing causes jet lag- beyond obvious time zone changes. It is the combination of factors (sleep deprivation, airborne pathogens, dry recycled air, stress, etc) that leave you feeling exhausted.

  • Alphons

    I fly to Europe 2 or 3 times a year. Here is my regimen:

     2 days before leaving I start eating, drinking (especially coffee) and sleeping at Europe times as much as possible.
     1 day before leaving I change my watch to Europe time to trick my brain.
     The only meal I eat on the overnight flight is breakfast just before landing.
     Since I can never really sleep on a plane, I take a nap for 2 hours (no longer) as soon as I arrive; that way I am tired enough to sleep at night.

    Somebody told me about this twenty years ago and it has worked like a charm. I don’t like taking medication, prescribed or not, unless absolutely necessary. It isn’t perfect but damn close. I am 67 now and I still works pretty good. I hope it can help someone else.

  • Anja

    I’ve given up trying to sleep on an airplane. I work for the industry, so I fly standby. I’m also a 6’1″ woman, so trying to sleep from SF to Sydney in a middle seat just doesn’t work.

    For all the years I’ve traveled, only one thing works. Psych yourself into understanding you’re gonna feel shattered when you get to your destination. Don’t overeat, and try to eat fresh and healthy. Once you arrive, you make yourself stay up until local bedtime. Then you take an OTC sleeping pill like Unisom or such. That will make you sleep through the night, and you’re probably not going to feel jet lag at all. If you’re still feeling it the second night, repeat the process. I’ve found it doesn’t take any longer than that to adjust to the new time zone.

  • Mary

    As soon as I get on the plane I don my eyeshades and pillow and blanket. No food, no drink except water. Advil PM helps too. Noise cancellation headphones, they’re part of the setup too. This has worked for years going US-Europe. I also set an alarm for about an hour before landing — the flight attendents wake you up for breakfast then any way. And as you said, walking around in the sun helps. Ambien doesn’t knock me out for the entire flight. Getting on the time zone of your destination, especially for eating, seems to be the best plan for me.

    I have a harder time going west to east, since you are up sooo early.

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