Light therapy to combat jet lag

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 12:00am

IT hit former US president George Bush in embarrassing fashion at a state dinner in Tokyo in 1992, supermodel Cindy Crawford's secret to overcome it is exercise, and Princess Diana took 50 times the normal dose of vitamin C to combat it.

Jet lag. While it may not attack most of us in the extreme form Mr Bush had it - he vomited and then collapsed in front of then Japanese prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa - most of us have experienced it.

And now a Hong Kong doctor is offering specialised treatment for exhausted travellers. Dr John Simon - a British doctor who runs a travel medicine clinic in the Prince's Building, Central - says he expects more and more people will consult doctors on how to combat the syndrome caused by crossing time zones.

'They will start to realise the impact of jet lag, especially when business travel is getting busier,' he said.

'Business people who need to work or attend conferences immediately after landing may not be able to concentrate.' Symptoms range from fatigue and depression in minor cases, to insomnia, impaired concentration, disorientation, stomach pain and even loss of memory.

Dr Simon said one local man who travelled from Hong Kong to New York in a day suffered 'trans-global amnesia' - short-term memory loss.

'He wandered in the streets in New York after landing and did not know who he was.' Dr Simon says light therapy, including the wearing of a specially designed jet-lag visor - which retails at US$200 (HK$1,540) - to provide light exposure at the right times after flying, could help reduce discomfort.

He said travellers' biological clocks were disrupted because of the abnormal day-and-night environment inside the aircraft.

Secretion of melatonin - a hormone that plays a crucial role in adjusting the body's rhythms - is suppressed by light.

Travellers should expose themselves to bright light in the morning or early afternoon for west-to-east travel; and late afternoon or evening for east-to-west travel.

Researchers have found that people travelling east get worse jet lag than those going west, he said.

Dr Simon said nine out of 10 air travellers suffered daytime sleepiness and 23 per cent would have severe sleepiness for two to seven days.

About 78 per cent have insomnia. Nine per cent get severe gastro-intestinal discomfort on a George Bush-scale and elderly people seem to be more susceptible.

Taking melatonin and sleeping pills are useful ways of reducing jet-lag discomfort, he said.