Dr Jane Read

There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination feeling exhausted and unable to concentrate. Getting off a long haul flight feeling nauseated, disorientated and generally just terrible is very common. Be reassured, this is, a normal physiological response to travelling long distances over multiple time zones.

airport 

Jet lag is a disruption to your sleep cycle and body clock, and also affects other bodily functions such as blood pressure, body temperature, thirst and hunger. The symptoms of jet lag can be influenced by the direction and timing of travel, in addition to the number of time zones crossed. Individual variability may also account for your ability to adapt at your new destination. Common symptoms of jet lag include daytime fatigue, sleep disturbance, reduced alertness, headache and gastrointestinal upsets.

Here are some nutrition and lifestyle strategies to help you beat the effects of jet lag and readjust to the new time zone more quickly.

Pre-adjustment

Try to adapt to the new time zones before arrival. Adjust the wake and sleep times to gradually bring you in line with the normal sleep- wake times for the destination. When travelling eastward, this would involve having gradual earlier wake times (increase by 30-60 mins daily). This is easier than attempting to sleep at an earlier time.

sleep to prevent jetlag

Hydration

Drink plenty of water and avoid high salt foods before and during your flight. Dehydration can make your jet lag symptoms worse. Avoid alcohol and caffeine on your flight, as well as the days before and after your flight. Both alcohol and caffeine lead to accelerated dehydration and result in poorer quality sleep, worsening the symptoms of jet lag. 

Appropriate timed meals and composition

To accelerate realignment, gradually adjust meals to the new time schedule. Eat small light meals on the flight. There is some evidence that a program of high protein meals and a period of fasting before arrival, followed by a high-protein meal eaten at the appropriate time for breakfast at the end destination may reduce the symptoms of jet lag.

well timed meals and composition

Light

Light is the major signal that shifts the sleep-wake cycle. The timing of light exposure can help you adjust to your new time zone. When travelling west, expose yourself to light and exercise late into the evening. When travelling east, try and have a brisk morning walk.

Melatonin

Melatonin helps to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It is a natural substance released from the pineal gland within the brain at night-time. A decline in melatonin level alerts the body that night-time is ending. It can be used to reset your body clock. It is best to take melatonin about an hour before bed.

Jet lag is a normal physiological response to travelling across time zones. The body often requires a few days to adjust. Maximising your daylight exposure will help you reset your body clock and sleep cycle, and get back on track as quickly as possible. 

 

Dr Jane Read is a Sydney-based GP Registrar who also holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Deakin University in Melbourne. In addition to working in general practice, Jane also runs her own nutrition consultancy business providing nutrition and dietetic services at the Northern Cancer Institute in St Leonards. She has also been a nutrition consultant to various corporate clients.

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