Time to Jettison the Jet Lag


The good news about meeting planning is, you get to travel the world. The bad news is, well, same thing. Because if you fly frequently or far for a living, there to greet you on either end is your old pal, jet lag, reminding you why the root of the word travel is travail (n): a painful or laborious effort.

In Seinfeld terms, I can’t go east. I once lost nearly a day out cold after foolishly attempting Seattle to Amsterdam. I mean, I was used to missing a meal, maybe two. But a day? Some can’t go west; I can’t go east.

We all have our individual approaches to the time change upon landing. Some use caffeine to delay sleep, others alcohol to promote it. There are those who swear by light boxes – and no, that’s not a euphemism for TV. Still others pop a melatonin before retiring. The common goal? Wake up in the same time zone as our bodies.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Surrey suggests that after all these years of air travel, we may have been overlooking a rather obvious antidote to jet lag. That breakthrough, research lead Christina Ruscitto told Huffington Post, is to “adjust by eating in line with local time – not just sleeping on local time.”

Scientists have long known that our body’s internal clock, aka our circadian rhythms, are closely aligned to our eating habits. But it turns out those meal checks are coming from peripheral parts of our internal clock, such as our stomach, liver and lungs, not the central brain, which tracks primarily on light of day. Your stomach may crave lunch after a morning flight to Stockholm, but your brain is watching the sunset, resulting in the confusion we know as jet lag.

To learn whether adjusting our meal times to local time could help prevent jet lag, the researchers studied 60 airplane crew members whose flight schedule involved a time change of at least four hours and a layover of at least two days so they could track their jet lag symptoms. All subjects were told to avoid preflight naps and post-flight sleeping pills.

Subjects were then split into two groups: one would prepare a meal schedule ahead of time and follow it for two days after their flight; the other would eat as they normally would, post-flight. During their two post-flight days, each crew member was then tested to objectively measure their alertness and overall jet lag symptoms.

While there weren’t huge differences in alertness between the two groups, those who had eaten regular meals post-flight reported feeling less jetlagged than their free-range counterparts.

“We found that making a meal plan to eat regularly (breakfast, lunch and dinner) before you travel did help reduce jet lag on days off afterward,” Ruscitto said. “The simple idea is to keep the circadian system in sync so that when you come back from a long-haul trip, you readjust by eating in line with the local time – not just by sleeping on local time.”

Fingers crossed this works. Otherwise, it’s back to my Hello Kitty onesie and a Bushmills chaser.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com


Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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