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Nutrition Tips for Beating Jet Lag

Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, jet lag can put a damper on things. Here are a few tricks  to help your body synchronize to the local time more quickly.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
August 22, 2017
Episode #442

Page 1 of 2

Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, jet lag can put a damper on things, especially if your travels take you across three or more time zones. 

It takes a while for your body’s circadian rhythms to adjust to your new time zone. Until it does, you may find yourself struggling to stay awake in the afternoons but then staring at the ceiling in the wee hours, leaving you even more tired the next day.

Some people are more affected than others. Those like my friend Eleanor, who can fall asleep whenever she needs to, regardless of the time of day, can quickly shrug off a change of time zone. Others, like my friend Craig, who needs a week to adjust to daylight savings time, have a harder time of it. Jet lag is also usually worse when traveling East than West.

If I’m only crossing a couple of time zones and only staying for a few days, I often try to stay on my home schedule for the entire trip--or close to it. When I fly from the East Coast to visit my sister in California, for example, I get up at about 5 in the morning and go to bed by 9:30 or 10 pm while I’m there.

But this month, I’m traveling to Europe to attend a conference and staying on Baltimore time simply won’t be an option. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to help your body synchronize to the local time more quickly. 

Adjust your meal schedule.

Most of us eat every few hours during the day and then have a 10-12 hour fast every night while we’re sleeping. This has a powerful effect on our body clocks. One way to reset your body clock when you travel is to refrain from eating during the hours that correspond to nighttime in the new time zone.

When traveling East, on the day you travel, eat your last meal at whatever time corresponds to dinner time at your destination. Don’t eat again until it’s breakfast time at your destination. When traveling West, on the day you travel, eat your first meal at whatever time corresponds to breakfast at your destination.   This usually entails skipping dinner when traveling East and skipping breakfast when traveling West.  Although this isn’t tons of fun, it can be a very effective way to synchronize your body clock to your destination. Be sure to drink plenty of plain water, however, to keep yourself hydrated.

If I get on a plane bound for Europe at 5pm Eastern time, for example, it’s already 11pm in Europe. By the time they are serving dinner on the plane, it’ll be 1 in the morning in Europe. Instead of eating, reading, and watching movies on the flight over, I’ll put on my eye mask, put in my ear plugs, and do my best to doze a few hours. Then, I’ll eat a substantial snack as soon as it’s morning at my destination—usually shortly before landing.

When it’s time to come home, I’ll try to eat dinner on the late side the night before travel. Then, I'll sleep in as long as I can on travel day and delay my first meal until mid-day (which is breakfast time back home). I'll enjoy a meal during the flight, and then I'll be back on the East Coast in time to have dinner at the regular time. 

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