Top 5 Tips to Beat Jet Lag
Whether you're a frequent flyer or a once a year holiday-er, jet lag recovery has no doubt stolen some of your precious time. Today I'd like to discuss what's going on and how you can recover more quickly from this pesky temporary health condition.
What is jet-lag?
According to www.healthdirect.com.au jet lag is simply a disturbance to your sleep-wake cycles from flying through multiple time zones with a range of symptoms including:
changed bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea
not being as alert as normal
not feeling very well
So what actually causes jet lag?
Traveling out of your usual time zone, flying for long distances and basically the sunlight just appearing at the wrong time of day for you/your body causes a disruption in the hormones which regulate your sleep-wake cycles. This includes cortisol which keeps you awake and alert, and melatonin which promotes deep, restorative sleep.
Cortisol is stimulated by stress (physical or emotional), exercise, eating, bright light, loud noise/music and of course caffeine and sugar. Cortisol usually peaks around 5-7am and should have significantly reduced by 9pm.
Melatonin is stimulated by dim light, calming scents (lavender, jasmin, rose) or time of day (melatonin usually peaks around 9pm). High doses of magnesium and herbs such as chamomile, lavender and california poppy are also effective melatonin stimulants.
Want to dive a little deeper here? I like this detailed description from the guys at www.sleepfoundation.org:
The circadian clock consists of a cluster of roughly 20,000 neurons known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus3 (SCN). The cluster is located in the hypothalamus4 at the base of the brain. When the eyes perceive light during the day, they activate signals that travel down a nerve tract to the SCN, which lets the brain know it is time to be awake. The SCN then releases a series of hormones, including cortisol, making sure you are awake and perky for your 9:00 am meeting.
The body uses light and other signals, called ‘zeitgebers’ (German for “time giver” or “synchronizer”) to determine whether it is day or night and to synchronize circadian rhythms accordingly. Light is considered the most important zeitgeber for the circadian rhythm. Even when our eyes are closed, the eyes still perceive light and activate signals to the SCN. Other zeitgebers include physical activity, food intake, body temperature, and social interaction.
Whilst we have almost an endless supply of cortisol, melatonin is a little more tricky to manufacture. In fact, melatonin and serotonin are both made from the same substance which is Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which we get from protein BUT we need carbohydrates/glucose in order to carry tryptophan across the blood brain barrier. So, whilst a deficiency of protein could lead to reduced melatonin levels - the same can be seen in mismanaged low carb diets.
What else contributes to feeling jet lagged?
Other travel related symptoms which we call jet lag are actually completely separate conditions. This includes:
Puffy ankles & water retention: Mayo clinic puts this down to inactivity and pressure due to being in a seated position - which causes the veins to pool blood in the lower limbs. Of course, the intensely salted meals that we're served on planes do nothing to help us here either. (Did you know that your tastebuds don't work properly when flying? This is why airplane foods are typically heavily salted. A 2010 study commissioned by Lufthansa and conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, showed sensitivity to sweet and salty foods drops by about 30 percent in the air, compared to the ground.)
Dehydration: Did you know that airplanes have lower humidity than the Sahara desert?!!. Look I don't know if this is true - an American Dietitian said it in an interview for www.blueskypit.com however it certainly feels true. Dry mouth, dry nasal passages and subsequently dry air funneling into your lungs - this will use up many of your precious fluid resources. Couple this with hardly ever being provided enough fluids to sustain that long journey and you're set for pretty significant dehydration on landing.
Digestive symptoms: Melatonin and magnesium regulate bowel motions. When we fly, melatonin is depleted, couple this with dehydration and significant change in air pressure and you'll likely find yourself with constipation, bloating, indigestion and more. Airplane food and prolongued inactivity really do nothing to assist this issue and our digestive systems may take several days to recover.
So what can we do about it?
Take Nutritional supplements:
B Vitamins help to regulate your sleep-wake cycles and may help you to get back into a favourable rhythm more quickly. Vitamin B12 is particularly helpful for boosting energy and with no determined upper limit (meaning it is safe to take at high doses) - we can safely take several per day to boost energy production in those early tired days. Vitamin B3 is an important nutrient that assists your body produce energy from foods and Vitamin B6 helps your body to regulate fluids. So take a good quality multi with plenty of B Vitamins like this one and take an extra B12 supplement to top up with when you need an extra boost (make sure it's B12 alone if you'd like to do this, there are upper limits for most other nutrients).
Magnesium a quality magnesium supplement can help you get a better night's sleep in those early days whilst also helping your bowels recover. I like the Ethical Nutrients Mega Magnesium as it also contains B6 (for fluid retention) and chromium - which is helpful for preventing sugar cravings.
Sleep support such as Ethical Nutrients Triple Action Sleep Support contains california poppy and lavender. I love having this formula with me when I travel as it also helps treat anxiety and stress. As a lovely side effect, lavender just so happens to be a great natural antimicrobial agent - helpful for travel tummy.
Exercise and movement during your flight try to stretch as much as possible. Or be a trend-setter and practice seat-yoga - just aim those downward dogs at your seat-back, not your neighbour ok! Getting active whenever possible during flights helps to stimulate circulation and the lymphatics - which are responsible for cleaning the junk from your system and keeping you healthy. Exercise on arrival at your destination helps to promote optimum cortisol levels and can give you a nice energy and mood boost which makes your holiday/work trip a little more fun. Importantly, our intestines are stimulated by abdominal muscle movement so as you get active you'll also wake up your bowels and be able to shift the back-log (excuse the pun) more quickly.
Eat healthy meals. OK, so you may not find a perfectly balanced meal on your plane but do your best before you leave and again on arrival to load yourself up in nutritious food. Here's a little breakdown:
Protein-rich foods (meat/fish/eggs/legumes/tofu) will provide tryptophan - to help you make serotonin (leaving you feeling happy) and melatonin (for optimum sleep).
Healthy carbs - will provide an energy boost whilst also taxiing tryptophan across the blood brain barrier so enjoy a nice healthy side of pasta/bread/rice/legumes/fruit to really make sure you get the most out of this meal.
Healthy fats (think olives, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, goats cheese, salmon, extra virgin olive oil) will help reduce inflammation and promote optimum circulation by reducing the 'stickiness' (viscosity) of the blood.
Veggies, particularly green leafy veg, beetroot and pumpkin will help further reduce inflammation, support bowel function (get you pooping) and provide essential nutrients for energy. Beetroot in particular is a great energy booster. This helps you combat the puffy ankles, fatigue, slow bowels and sleeplessness in one swoop.
Drink drink drink - water of course: Whilst coffee and cocktails are no doubt calling you, it's water that will help you quickly recover from dehydration and feel like that younger, stronger, happier jetsetter that you once were. The average person needs around 1.5-2.5L per day but this increases with hot weather, illness, physical activity and artificial air heating/cooling. Aim to reach 2.5L as your average for the first few days (more if you're thirsty) but drink consistently - in sips. Try not to go long periods without water and then gulping back 500ml every few hours - this is typically poorly absorbed. Another note for best results is to avoid drinking more than 50-100ml during meals which can negatively impact digestion.
Eat hydrating, electrolyte-rich foods: Consuming electrolyte-rich foods such as cucumber, celery, watermelon, grapes and coconut water can help you more quickly recover from dehydration. Aim to consume these foods with/after each meal for the first 2-3 days and you should notice a great improvement in your energy and jet lag symptoms.
Note on supplements: I've done my best to recommend Australian, readily-available and very high quality supplements here. This post was not sponsored and I stand behind my brand choices as those who have continuously proven to be effective in my patients over the past 11 years. Please remember however that you should always discuss any new supplement regime with your health care provider prior to commencing. Some medications may interact with nutritional supplements. It is important to gain individual advice. If you don't have time for a full consultation, check out our Prescription Update service.
I hope these tips have you excited about enjoying your next tip with less jet lag. Please share this article with your friends and family.
Until next time, stay deliciously healthy.
Jennifer May BHSc(Nut.Med).Adv.Dip.Nut.Med.ATMS