How to Hack Jet Lag the Natural Way
This brutal Calgary winter has had me day-dreaming a lot more than usual about getting on a plane, going somewhere sunny and warm, and not looking back. Unfortunately, jet-setting across the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The jet lag can take a major toll on your natural circadian rhythm, which in turn can affect all body systems like the hormonal and immune systems, just to name a couple.
Whenever I am fortunate enough to fly across seas for a fun vacation in the sun, I always make sure to take a few precautions to ensure the trip has the least amount of impact on my circadian rhythm as possible. Before I get into that, though, let me explain why you should care about avoiding jet lag as best as you can. Sleep deprivation throws off the natural rhythm of all our body systems, as I’ve already mentioned, but it’s also been shown to decrease learning and memory retention ability and quality of short-term memory. Yikes.
Of course, another factor is that if you’ve got a limited amount of time on vacation in your favourite sunny spot. You probably don’t want to spend the first few days in a haze of mismatched sleep and wake time. Studies have shown that for every day you’re in the new time zone, your circadian rhythm is only able to adjust by one hour. So, to make the most of your vacation, help your body adjust more quickly to the new time zone by following my three tips below to hack jet lag the natural way.
1. Stimulants: Steer Clear
You’re not going to like me for this one. You know that mini bottle of wine you have as a “night cap” on your overnight flight to Europe? The one you think helps you sleep (but really increases your chances of waking throughout the flight and decreases overall sleep quality)? The first step to hacking your circadian rhythm is staying away from stimulants, which means a herbal tea or adaptogenic beverage like a reishi hot cacao (Four Sigmatics sachets are the best!) is a much better choice.
Perhaps even more difficult than avoiding that glass of wine is avoiding the world’s favorite stimulant: coffee. Again, choosing a herbal tea, lemon water, or an adaptogen like cordyceps is a much better choice to give you a natural boost in energy without messing your circadian rhythm up even more. Stimulants cause overstimulation of the central nervous system, which on top of the major shift in circadian rhythm already caused by the flight itself, can lead to circadian mayhem. If you want to transition time zones like a champ, heed my advice on this one.
2. Fasting: The Number One Way to Reset Your Internal Clock
Okay, you’re really not going to like me for this one either, but hear me out! Fasting is pretty much the simplest (note I didn’t say easiest) way to reset your internal clock during a long flight. If you’re new to the concept of fasting, check out a blog post I wrote about it recently here.
Our circadian rhythm is determined by several external queues like light exposure and timing of meals. Simply put, when we’re eating, we’re sending a signal to the body that it’s time to be awake, even if it’s actually time to be resting or sleeping. So, if you decide to eat a snack in the middle of the night, as you might when you’re bored on a plane watching movies, your body gets really confused. This (along with extreme dehydration) will also lead to digestion issues and indigestion on flights, which makes the experience just that much more unpleasant.
When you fast on long overnight flights, you’re really doing your body a favour. Not only are you avoiding the crappy airplane food, you’re also giving your digestive system a rest, allowing your body some time to catch up on other important work like making sure your immune system is as strong as possible and that your circadian clock is able to adjust more easily once you hit your destination. Fasting is also an amazing tool for decreasing inflammation and air travel is notorious for being highly inflammatory. Everything from the food you’re served, to the recycled air being pumped through the cabin, to the chemicals used on every surface, and the high levels of electromagnetic radiation contribute to this inflammatory environment.
Your main takeaway here should be to fast when you’d normally be sleeping, according to your new time zone. For example, if you’re leaving Calgary to take a flight to Portugal at 5 p.m. (midnight Portugal-time) and landing in Portugal mid-morning the next day, your last meal should be sometime in Calgary before your flight. What I would do in this situation is eat a big (ideally healthy) dinner at the airport an hour or so before the flight and then not eat again until breakfast. Yes, you’re only technically fasting for maybe 9-10 hours instead of a recommended 12 or more, but this still makes such a difference.
3. Meals Matter: What and When You Eat is Key!
As I’ve already alluded to, meal timing matters a lot when it comes to traveling and resetting your circadian rhythm. When it is time to take your first meal of the day, if you’ve flown east like in my example above, that’ll most likely be breakfast. Choosing a high-protein breakfast is key for energy production when you’re most likely feeling like a sleep-deprived zombie. If you’re flying the opposite direction, make sure you eat your dinner at a usual time and eat a higher-healthy-carb meal. Higher carb meals promote relaxation and will help you fall asleep and stay asleep when it’s time to do so.
Beating Jet Lag- A Protocol
If you’re flying East, to Europe for example, here’s a protocol I’d recommend to get over your jet lag in less than 24 hours.
Eat dinner at a reasonable time on European time. No later than 4 p.m. Calgary time, if you can make that work. After that, your job is simple: hydrate as much as possible, sleep if you can, and stay fasted until breakfast the next morning- ideally after you’ve landed.
Prior to a long flight overseas, I try to drink 2L of water. During my flight, I try to drink an additional 2L of water- although many recommend much more. Planes are insanely dehydrating, but I try to favour sleep over hydration while on my flight. I’ll usually drink a full litre at the very beginning of the flight (I always fill my big water bottle up at Starbucks since they always have filtered water) and drink another litre or so throughout the rest of the flight or at the very end before landing. I find cold water really helps to wake me up when I’m feeling groggy after a long flight.
Drinking water also helps if I feel hungry at all throughout the flight. Herbal tea helps too. I do try to spend the majority of the overnight flight sleeping or at least in a meditative state (listening to binaural beats helps a lot with this), so I’ve found that hunger doesn’t affect me all that much.
As far as trying to sleep on planes goes, I do really like taking melatonin a few hours before “bedtime” to send my brain a signal that bedtime is coming up. I also take magnesium citrate to help me relax. It also helps with constipation if you deal with that on long flights. I always choose an aisle seat so I can get up to go to the bathroom whenever I need to. I bring an eye mask and pillow and try to get as comfy as possible. To be honest, I rarely can actually fall asleep on long plane rides, but with the help of binaural beats and guided meditations, I do spend most of the flight in a meditative state. Although not as restorative as an actual good night’s sleep, obviously, meditating is much better for the body and mind than watching movies or staying up all night reading.
Even though I’m not eating on my flight, I’ll normally bring some healthy snacks just in case. Macadamia nuts, beef jerky, nut butter packets and crackers, and sachets of Four Sigmatics mushroom elixirs are my favourite at the moment. These really come in handy if you’re starving when you land the next morning but can’t find anything healthy right away. PS- If you’re interested in reading more about my self-care routines on short and long-haul flights, check out this post here!
There you have it! Do you have any long-flight hacks I didn’t mention in today’s post? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re reading this post before you hop onto a flight to somewhere sunny and warm, I’m jealous. Happy flying 😊