5 June 2024 132 view(s)
A nutritionist's guide to beating jet lag

A nutritionist's guide to beating jet lag

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is when our circadian rhythm, which is our body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle becomes out of sync, often after air travel across multiple time zones. Jet lag is very common for those who take long haul flights to a different time zone than the one they started in.

Jet lag symptoms

Jet lag symptoms include feelings of fatigue, lack of focus and brain fog, digestive upset, difficulty sleeping, irritability, muscle and joint stiffness and all-round feelings of grogginess! 

Why we get jet lag?

We experience jet lag because the body has not had a chance to adapt to the new time zone in which we arrive in and is still operating on ‘home time’. Jet lag is often more pronounced the more time zones you cross. It is thought that traveling East is more difficult to recover from than travelling West because the body seems to be more efficient at delaying our internal clocks than speeding them up.

Sunlight is a key regulator of the circadian rhythm. Darkness of an evening increases the production of our sleep hormone melatonin to enable us to get to and stay asleep, while sunlight in the morning and throughout the day reduces melatonin production to allow us to stay awake and alert. When you travel to another time zone this rhythm becomes dysregulated, disrupting hormone balance and the body’s internal clock, leading to jet lag symptoms.

How to reduce jet lag?

  • Before you travel make small adjustments to your routine to ease you into a new time zone, when travelling East go to bed an hour earlier for a few nights before you depart, if flying West, go to bed one hour later
  • When flying, skip the alcohol and coffee and opt for plenty of water. Dehydration can make jet lag worse
  • If the flight is during the arrival destinations night time, aim to get a few hours sleep on the plane, if it’s their day time – try to resist sleep if you can.
  • Light exposure is a key player for the circadian rhythm. It is advised that after travelling East exposing yourself to morning light can help you adapt to an earlier time zone, while if heading West, exposure to evening light can help you adjust to a later time zone.
  • Once you have arrived, try to adapt to the destinations schedule straight away, that might mean delaying sleep and changing meal timings.
  • Research has found that exercise may help jet lag recovery. It has been found that exercise at 7am or between 1 and 4pm helped shift the circadian rhythm forward, while exercising between 7pm and 10pm helped to shift the body clock back.

Food to help with jet lag

It’s not just when you eat but what you eat that also matters for jet lag recovery. If you do need to eat before a flight then having a small meal that includes a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats can balance your blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. During long haul flights meals and snacks are usually included, the nutritional value of these foods may vary but usually you have a choice of a few options, aim to get the most balanced thing you can and skip the coffee and alcohol. 

Taking your own food is also an option, while this may be a little tricky, some great options are vegetable crudites, oatcakes with nut or seed butter and healthy protein rich snack bars. 

Some research has found that fasting can help you to recover from jetlag quicker, researchers found that those who fasted before and during the flight (of at least 14 hours) and delaying eating until after landing, close to the new destinations meal times, experienced overall less jet lag symptoms.

Supplements for jet lag

Supplements can be useful tools for beating jet lag, as well as supporting your body when in a different country. 

Sleep support

A great jet lag remedy is adjusting your sleep schedule to fit the new destination. Nutrients to support sleep include: 

  • 5HTP, magnesium and B6 can support the body’s production of serotonin which then converts into melatonin – the sleep hormone that helps us regulate our sleep-wake cycle
  • Montmorency cherry which contains naturally occurring melatonin
  • Magnesium helps to calm the body and mind to enable better sleep
  • Hops have a history of traditional use for sleep support
  • Glycine, an amino acid has been found to improve sleep quality

Multi-nutrient support

Flying, changing time zones, irregular sleep and meal timing can cause additional stress to the body, supporting yourself before, during and after travel with a multivitamin and mineral that contains antioxidant nutrients can help to combat jet lag and increase your nutrient intake whilst away.

B vitamins

B vitamins can support energy production, nervous system health and neurotransmission and so may help with common jet lag symptoms of fatigue, irritability and low mood.

Antioxidants 

Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, zinc and selenium, alongside polyphenols and other antioxidant compounds such as glutathione, N-Acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10 can be beneficial for jet lag symptoms as they can help to fight free radical damage in the body and support the immune system.

Probiotics

It’s always a good idea to take a probiotic travelling with you, depending on where you go you might be eating and drinking things your digestive system may not be used to, and so a probiotic can help support the gut microbiome and ease any digestive comfort. 

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