The holidays are here and for many of us, that means a lot of travel. If you’re moving between time zones this year, beware of jet lag—a side effect of traveling that can leave you tired all day, wide awake at night, and suffering from stomach issues and difficulty concentrating.
You might not know this, but jet lag can also affect your mental health in a negative way; in fact, studies have linked jet lag to psychiatric breakdowns (1) and spikes in psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression.
Clearly, the symptoms of jet lag are ones we want to prevent. This is true all year long but especially during the holidays when there’s so much to do and we’re trying our best to be present and enjoy the time with friends and family.
Enter: The following list of functional medicine-approved jet lag remedies. These tips and tricks will help you adjust to your new time zone without a hitch and reduce the symptoms of jet lag so you can enjoy the rest of 2019.
Watch what you eat (and when)
The timing of your meals is always important, but it becomes particularly crucial if you’re switching time zones. Your meal patterns send signals to your body about what time of day it is.
For example, if you’re taking a morning flight from the east coast to the west coast of the United States, delaying breakfast until you land can help signal to your body that the day has just begun, even if you’ve been up for hours. If you’re flying west to east, eat a light dinner so you don’t have to digest a big meal and you can get to bed early to adapt to the new schedule.
And no matter where you are, don’t eat late at night. One study (2), published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, showed that eating before bed (especially a high-fat meal) led to lower sleep efficiency scores, taking a longer time to fall asleep, a higher likelihood of waking up throughout the night, and less time in REM sleep.
Be strategic about your caffeine intake
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t have your morning coffee (phew, right?). In fact, it’s quite the opposite. By drinking caffeine in the morning at your destination, you’re more likely to adapt to the new sleep pattern more quickly. That said, limit your caffeine to the morning. After 11am or so, stick to caffeine-free beverages. And remember, it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine. Foods like chocolate and beverages like tea, soda, and kombucha also contain hidden caffeine that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep after traveling.
Get some exercise
If you’re traveling between time zones, don’t forget to move your body; preferably in the morning. This will signal to your body that your day has started and it will also support a healthier mood (3), better insulin sensitivity, and help you wear yourself out so you’re more likely to sleep soundly that night. In fact, studies have shown (4) a direct correlation between exercise and a better night’s sleep.
If you want to take it to the next level, try to exercise outside in direct sunlight, which will help get your circadian rhythm adapted to the new schedule. Studies have linked (5) morning sunlight exposure to a better night’s sleep and a better mood.
Pack a probiotic
Does your digestion get thrown off when you travel? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. Many of us blame the foods we’re eating, but it might actually be the time change. Studies have shown that jet lag can change the makeup of our gut bacteria. One study (6), published in the journal Cell, showed that jet lag-induced dysbiosis can promote glucose intolerance (aka, insulin resistance) and weight gain.
The solution? A probiotic supplement, which can help you inoculate your gut with plenty of beneficial bacteria to get your digestive health back on track.
If none of the strategies above are quite doing the trick—and you find yourself wide awake after midnight—supplementing with melatonin can help you get your sleep and energy levels back on track. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels rise in the evening as the sun goes down and decrease in the early hours of the morning (when the sun comes up) to help us shed the sleepiness and take on the day.
As you might guess, traveling through multiple time zones can leave your body’s sleep-wake cycle and melatonin rhythms out-of-whack; you can end up producing melatonin too early or too late, which affects your ability to wind down to get to sleep. The good news is that by taking a melatonin supplement, you essentially biohack your sleep-wake cycle and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep, regardless of the time back home.
Melatonin has been widely studied for jet lag and the science is promising. One review paper showed that in nine out of the ten studies they evaluated showed that taking melatonin close to bedtime at the destination (between 10 p.m. and midnight) decreased jet lag from flights crossing time zones. If you’re having trouble adjusting, or want to take it preventatively, take 5 mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before you’re ready to go to sleep.
Travel can be hard on your body. You’re out of your regular routine, eating strange foods, and sleeping at strange hours. The time change can make you feel like you’re living in a fog. But by trying a few (or all!) of the tips above, you can mitigate the damage and make sure your jet lag isn’t ruining any of your fun.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Jauhar, P., & Weller, M. P. I. (1982). Psychiatric Morbidity and Time Zone Changes: A Study of Patients from Heathrow Airport. British Journal of Psychiatry, 140(3), 231–235. doi: 10.1192/bjp.140.3.231
- Crispim, C. A., Zimberg, I. Z., Reis, B. G. D., Diniz, R. M., Tufik, S., & Mello, M. T. D. (2011). Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.1476
- Hearing, C. M., Chang, W. C., Szuhany, K. L., Deckersbach, T., Nierenberg, A. A., & Sylvia, L. G. (2016). Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review. Current behavioral neuroscience reports, 3(4), 350–359. doi:10.1007/s40473-016-0089-y
- Dolezal, B. A., Neufeld, E. V., Boland, D. M., Martin, J. L., & Cooper, C. B. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in preventive medicine, 2017, 1364387. doi:10.1155/2017/1364387
- The impact of daytime light exposures on sleep and mood in office workers Figueiro M.G., Steverson B., Heerwagen J., Kampschroer K., Hunter C.M., Gonzales K., Plitnick B., Rea M.S. (2017) Sleep Health, 3 (3) , pp. 204-215.
- Thaiss, C. A., Zeevi, D., Levy, M., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Suez, J., Tengeler, A. C., … Elinav, E. (2014). Transkingdom Control of Microbiota Diurnal Oscillations Promotes Metabolic Homeostasis. Cell, 159(3), 514–529. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.048
- Herxheimer, A., & Petrie, K. J. (2002). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi: 10.1002/14651858.cd001520
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