Any travel enthusiast will know the frustration of arriving at an exciting new place and wanting to explore it—before being hit with crippling jet lag.
Thankfully, scientists in the US think they finally have a solution — and they claim it all comes down to what and when you eat.
It’s been said that a single, large early morning meal three days after landing can turn jet lag on its head—although the older you get, the less likely it is to work.
Experts agree that a walk in the sun is another good tip. So, combined with the new advice, Flyers are well on their way to recovery.
It’s already well known that one of the worst things you can do to combat jet lag is to refuse to adjust to the new time zone – like going to sleep during the day.
Jet lag is caused by a difference between the circadian system (the body’s internal clock) and the environment
What causes jet lag?
Jet lag occurs when long-distance travel disrupts your internal clock — or circadian rhythm.
This internal cycle of bodily functions is synchronized with the 24-hour rhythm of the Earth’s rotation.
So when people fly through different time zones, their senses are affected.
Night waking, fatigue, infrequent hunger pangs, and even digestive issues and severe headaches are common complaints of jet lag sufferers.
The new study was conducted by experts from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.
“Eating a larger meal early in the morning in the new time zone can help overcome jet lag,” said study author Yitong Huang of Northwestern University.
“Constantly changing meal plans or eating in the evening is discouraged as it can cause internal clocks to become misaligned.”
Jet lag is caused by disruptions in the human body’s innate biological clock, called the circadian rhythm, which regulates when we become sleepy and when we are more alert.
Modern research has shown that circadian clocks are present in almost every cell and tissue in the human body – and can vary from organ to organ.
For example, the master clock in the brain is a group of about 20,000 nerve cells that make up a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which receives direct impulses from the eyes.
The brain’s clock can be reset by exposure to sunlight, which is why jet lag sufferers are advised to enjoy the daylight in their new location rather than indulging in sleep.
In particular, sunlight affects the production of a hormone called melatonin (produced by the pineal gland in the brain) that helps regulate sleep.
When we are exposed to sunlight, the production of melatonin is suppressed, which helps us stay awake during the day.
When the eyes receive sunlight, the production of melatonin in the pineal gland is inhibited and the hormones produced keep us alert. When the eyes do not receive light, melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and the person becomes tired
Meanwhile, peripheral organs like the stomach and liver have their own separate clocks that are recalibrated by food — namely what and when we eat.
Jet lag can occur when these clocks get out of sync, the research team says.
“Conflicting signals, such as warm weather during a short light period or late-night eating — eating when the brain is just about to rest — can confuse internal clocks and lead to desynchronization,” Huang said.
For the study, the authors used computer software to study the interactions between multiple internal clocks in jet lag — and how these are affected by aging.
They built a model consisting of two “oscillators” stacked on top of each other – one representing the clock driven by sunlight, the other the clock driven by food.
Using this model, the team was able to investigate how such a coupled system can be disrupted and what exacerbates the effect.
The results suggest that having one meal per day early in the morning for the first three days is the best option — albeit with triple the amount of food.
However, they also found that aging leads to weaker signals between circadian clocks and less sensitivity to light.
The figure shows the mathematical model of the team. It consists of two populations of coupled oscillators, with one population representing the central clock in the brain, which is influenced by light, and the other population representing a peripheral clock, which is influenced by food
This means that older people who are jet lagged after a long flight may need more days to recover compared to younger people.
The authors plan to examine the other side of the equation and identify the factors that lead to more resilient internal clocks.
Such discoveries could lead to recommendations to prevent jet lag in the first place or to keep the circadian system healthy into old age.
The team admit that little is known about how the body’s various internal clocks influence each other, although they call the brain the “central clock” because it coordinates all the other clocks.
“Experimental data clearly demonstrate a hierarchical network of clocks in mammals, and these clocks respond to different external stimuli,” says their article, published in Chaos journal.
“Hence, a mathematical framework that encompasses both the central clock and the peripheral clocks is required to advance our knowledge of circadian rhythms.”
TIPS FOR PREVENTING AND TREATMENT OF JETLAG
Sleep researcher Dr. University of Sydney’s Yu Sun Bin says long-haul travelers can reduce their alcohol consumption to avoid severe jet lag (stock image)
GO FOR A STROLL
Strolling in the sun is better than napping to fight jet lag, a 2019 airline study found.
Fatigue specialists from Qantas and the University of Sydney at the Charles Perkins Center have published their findings on how passengers cope on long overseas flights.
Sleep researcher Dr. Yu Sun Bin of the university team said less than half of the Qantas passengers surveyed took an outdoor walk after arriving at their destination.
“We know that one of the most important strategies is to go into the sunlight at the destination to synchronize the body clock, but only 47 percent of passengers made the effort to do so,” she said.
Sleep experts recommend getting outside after a long flight so travelers can adjust to the new time zone.
dr Sun Bin also advised passengers to reduce the amount of beer and wine they consume on a long flight.
“If you have more than a few glasses of alcohol, jet lag gets worse,” she said.
“It can make us fall asleep faster, but at a certain point it also affects sleep quality and leads to dehydration.”
The NHS says: “Don’t drink too much caffeine or alcohol – they can make jet lag worse.”
Lemons have properties that help fight dehydration, bananas are high in potassium and magnesium, which act as natural muscle relaxants, and cherries are a natural dietary source of melatonin, a hormone that helps reset the body’s clock.
According to luxury hotel chain Swissotel, goji berries can improve sleep quality, and fresh ginger is another source of melatonin.
If jet lag has been affecting your digestive issues, consuming a super grain, quinoa, may provide relief.
…BUT DOES MELATONIN WORK?
Melatonin is a natural hormone the body releases in the evening to tell your brain it’s time to sleep – and it’s available in pill form to help reduce jet lag.
According to the Mayo Clinic, melatonin aids sleep at times when you wouldn’t normally sleep, which is beneficial for those with jet lag.
“As a jet lag and sleep aid, melatonin has been extensively studied and is now a well-recognized component of an effective jet lag treatment,” says the Mayo Clinic.
“Your body treats melatonin as a darkness signal, so melatonin generally has the opposite effect of bright light.”
However, the NHS says melatonin tablets are not recommended for jet lag because there is not enough evidence that they work.
NHS tips for preventing jet lag include drinking plenty of water, staying active by stretching, walking around the cabin regularly and sleeping when it’s night at your destination.
Once in your location, the NHS also recommends changing your sleep schedule to the new time zone as soon as possible, setting an alarm to avoid oversleeping in the morning and going outside during the day to enjoy the natural light .