How to beat jet lag

Jay Brewer, Professional Head of Physiology at Nuffield Health, explains what jet lag is, some of the symptoms you may encounter and top tips to help you beat it.

Jet lag is caused when our external light-dark cycle is disturbed from normal patterns, which in turn will cause a loss of synchronisation with our internal wake-sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. The most common symptoms of jet lag include malaise, lack of energy, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia) and emotional behaviours.

It is recommended that if a trip abroad is to last less than two days, crosses less than two time zones or travels west, travellers  should stay in their ‘home’ time zone as best as possible. This includes trying to keep similar sleep wake cycles, eating times and light dark cycles.

Here are some tips to help you adjust pre and post travelling:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol as, although these substances can be used to increase alertness and feel relaxed, the incidences of nocturnal sleep complaints increases both subjectively and objectively.
  • Keep well hydrated as dehydration can exacerbate the feelings of fatigue. Particularly, focus on hydration in airplane cabins as the air is drier.
  • Exercise first thing to increase stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol while blocking sleep hormones such as melatonin and adenosine.
  • Avoid large meals in your new time zone as your digestive system is also out of sync and large or rich meals can result in constipation or digestive discomfort.
  • Avoid sugary foods and add protein to meals as high sugar foods fluctuate blood sugar and energy levels, while protein slows energy release. Eat salads, vegetables and pulses rather than processed foods, high fat foods and white grains.
  • Set your watch to the new time zone as, although this does not physically improve jet lag, it does start to mentally prepare you.
  • Sleep in pitch black, as even small levels of light are picked up by the skin and can reduce sleep depth. Ensure your room has thick curtains and also wear an eye mask.

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