Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jet Set Life of Chemists…

The WSJ recently ran a story titled "To Avoid Jet Lag This Summer, Travel Like a Scientist." When I first saw the headline, I feared that it was going to talk about how one needs to make sure to bring datapads and a laser pointer while on travel. (No more pocket protectors for us!). Or perhaps it would discuss the stamina required to endure the long days we spend when we visit a university to present a seminar on our latest research findings, starting with breakfast and ending after dinner just in time to spend a few more hours working on the datapad. The schedule is usually so full that you have to ask someone permission to take a bio break as such activities take away from the precious time that a given host has been scheduled to meet with you. Of course, invariably the schedule runs late, making everything all the more harried. Immutable entries on the schedule, such as meals and the scheduled seminar time, are the only saving grace for keeping some semblance of order during a visit.  But alas, I was wrong. The story, instead attempts to discuss recent findings on the types of actions one can take to mitigate jet lag during trips travelling across multiple time zones. Even then, the article disappoints because it tends to offer conflicting advice with much of it based on hearsay in the absence of sufficient hard data for a foolproof action that works well for everyone.

The title nevertheless caught my eye because I believe that the advice is actually correct. Namely, a traveller should first set up a control by essentially doing what is natural during the process of a given trip. Well, not quite nothing. She should take good notes of what she did and how her body behaved during the process. If all goes well, then she will have proven to herself that the null strategy is effective for herself. As she repeats the experiment in subsequent flights, presumably with positive results, she will simply be verifying it to the degree that it becomes statistically accurate. If, on the other hand, the outcome is not positive in the first case or repeatable in subsequent cases, then she has reason to try alternative strategies. Based on her knowledge of her behavior in other scenarios, she should then approach the introduction of new strategies (preferably one at a time) that are most likely to mitigate her jet lag, and then observe the outcomes. (The WSJ article does provide many such strategies for you to choose from either individually or as a cocktail.) Through successive iteration, she can optimize the protocol for herself. (WARNING: Don't share the protocol with others because it will be different for different people.) One difficulty here is that your statistics are poor because you have a sample size of one, yourself. On the other hand, different people respond differently to timezone hopping, and hence you need the strategy personalized to just yourself. So it falls on you to do the series of experiments to optimize your own strategy. Doing so means that you're truly travelling like a scientist. Now that advice you can share with others.

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