The biggest downside to world travel is no doubt jet lag (if you were thinking that sleeping on planes was the answer, be sure to read this article of mine!)
There are many tips, tricks and tonics out there to help mitigate jetlag - whether it's changing your sleep times pre trip, taking a bunch of vitamins, or drinking fancy recovery water... there is always something new that you should be doing or taking. But what actually works? What tips do I have to help cure (or even avoid) jet lag?
Before I get into my 15 tips to cure jet lag lets first look at what jet lag actually is.
Many people blame the horrible feelings of jet lag on dehydration, stress of travelling and poor sleep while traveling. Sure these all play some role in how you feel at the end of the journey, but medically, jet lag is a result of the misaligned circadian rhythms. For example, when you body expects to be sleeping (no light exposure, lowered body temperature, high levels of leptin, low levels of ghrelin) and it's placed in an environment full of light, food and warmth then this a mismatch, a disconnect between what the body expects and what the body is given (note, this 'disconnect' rings true for modern day life with endless artificial light, 24/7 food and modern heating - all of which have a similar effect to jet lag just on a much lower scale).
The body has its own internal clock, (I explain this in more detail in this article on blue light and sleep) and researchers have discovered a master gene responsible for sleep and wake cycles. This gene is called Lhx1 and is the master regulator of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the brains hypothalamus. You see, every cell in the body works off a cycle set by the SCN. Just like we humans behave and function differently at different times of the day, our cells do the same - releasing digestive enzymes at a particular time, dumping cortisol to wake us up, regulating body temperature etc. Any disruption in this 'routine' courses havoc... or jet lag.
Bodies natural circadian rhythm - Source: How to maximise your bodies circadian rhythm
Now that we understand the cause of jet lag, what can we do to minimize the negative effects?
This is probably the cheapest and easiest tip in this list! What exactly do I mean by 'ground yourself'? Simple - connect with the earth. Physically touch the earth surface with your bare feet. How is this beneficial to curing jet lag?
First, we need to take a quick look at anti-oxidants. In really simple terms an anti-oxidant is 'oxygen donor' - meaning the supply of the antioxidant can neutralize free radicals within the body. Free radicals do damage and cause inflammation. Anti-oxidants - in the form of negative ions - neutralize them.
This is why people take anti-oxidants like vitamin c to help with recovery. Now did you know that there is a massive source of free 'negative ions' right beneath our feet. These negative ion's can help reduce a buildup of positive ions (inflammatory causing). Positive ions that build up in the body during air travel...
This source of the free negative ions is of course the earth itself. Every time you touch the ground, you receive negative ions- the body 'equalizes' as such.
So as soon as you get off the plane, take your shoes off, find a patch of grass, go to the beach and collect some free negative ions!
For more on grounding and it's benefits read EMF - Does Your Rolex Work or watch the great documentary 'Grounded.'
Grounding - Simple & Effective! Source: Natures-blessings.org
This is another simple, free and highly effective tip for beating jet lag. In fact, it may be on the most effective tips on this list! Once you land in your final destination aim to get as much natural sunlight on your face, body and through your eyes. Obviously if you arrive at night time then you don't need to do this, but as soon as the sun comes up in the morning you should be getting outside and into the sun!
As mentioned above, disrupted light cycles play a huge role in jet lag and our body expects a regular light/dark cycle. After traveling there will be a light cycle mismatch between the environment and your bodies cycles. Morning or day time sun help reset this cycle and will set you up for a solid night’s sleep later that night.
All you have to do is get as much sun light on the body and in the eye (avoid glasses or contacts for optimal results). Do it while standing on the beach or grass barefoot and you're hitting 2 birds with one stone!
For more on this please see my article How to Improve Your Sleep With Morning Sunlight
Watching the sunrise at your arrival destination will help with jet lag!
Ubiquinol (a bio-active form of CoQ10) is a very powerful free radical scavenger and helps our mitochondria (our cells power plants) function optimally. The body undergoes a ton of stress during airline travel (exposure to radiation at altitude being a big one), ubiquinol is one of the best supplements to help mitigate the dangerous effects of these stresses.
Supplement with 200mg of Super Ubiquinol post flight (and ideally take a few pre and during the flight). I use and recommend Life Extension Super Ubiquinol (use code BHS654 for a discount if ordering on iherb).
Famous bio-hackers Tim Ferriss and fitness guru Ben Greenfield swear by hot pools & bathhouses for post travel recovery. Upon landing they will seek out the nearest Russian, Turkish or Japanese Bathhouse. If your travel destination does not have a local bathhouse, a sauna will suffice (infrared, steam or dry saunas are all suitable options).
Though I don't have any scientific proof behind spas and saunas curing jet lag, anyone that has had a long hot soak after a flight will tell you that it does help jet lag recovery!
I mentioned Ben & Tim's jet lag remedy above, well this is only half of their protocol. They actually swear by a hot/cold contrast. So once they find their bathhouse they will spend 15minutes in the heat followed by 5 minutes in the cold (using a cold plunge pool, cold shower, or a cold ocean swim). Repeat this 3 times (60minutes total).
But if you cannot find a hot sauna/spa to do the hot cold contrasts, jump in some cold water anyway! This is actually a personal 'must' that I do when travelling - cold showers as frequent as possible! Every airport stopover I find a shower and do a 5-minute cold shower. When I land at my destination if possible I head straight to the beach for a ocean swim - no matter the time of the year (and just think, you can tick off grounding, sun exposure and cold all in one).
It may sound unpleasant, but it will help you bounce back from all the travel! Plus, cold exposure has a ton of benefits that you can read more about here How Rubbing Yourself In A Cold Shower Can Help You Burn Fat.
Being immobile in a cramped space for an extended period can cause blood clots to form - these can travel to your lungs and cause many health issues including death. Not only that but a lack of circulation and poor oxygen flow to all extremities can leave you feeling lethargic and 'heavy' post flight. Have you ever noticed that walking up a flight of stairs after a long flight feels extremely hard?
The best remedy for this is a good walk, but a great option is to hang upside down. An inversion table would be the best option, but you could also do a head stand against the wall if you don't have access to an inversion table. You could also try rebounding on a mini trampoline for a similar circulation benefit.
The perfect post flight remedy? Source - The Benefits of Inversions
The sooner you can get oxygen and nutrition to all organs & muscle tissue the sooner you will be back on you A game. So while we're on the subject of circulation let's look at other methods to help cure jet lag. Massage is always a great way to revitalize post flight but another option that I have personally used are the Normatec Compression Recovery Boots!
After a recent trip involving 19 hours of flying I was fortunate enough to get access to a pair of these boots (or leggings as they go up to your hip). Literally an hour after touching down my swollen ankles were being handled by a normatec machine. If you have access to one of these devices make sure you work it into your travel routine. 2 days later I went on to win the Paleo Fx Real fit competition - beating all the locals - so I'm sure the boots helped (and even if they didn't I felt a lot more agile post session!).
As outlined in tip number 2, light plays a critical role in resyncing ones’ circadian rhythm. After you have get as much sunlight as possible during the morning and day, it's important to restrict light as soon as the sunsets in your new location. One of the best ways to cure jet lag and to help you sleep when the locals sleep is by resetting your light/dark cycles.
So how do you do this? As soon as it gets dark in your environment (or if you land at night), look to avoid as much artificial light as possible. In particular, you want to restrict blue light exposure. You can read more about this in my popular article How Technology & Blue Light Is Ruining Sleep & Making You Sick Fat & Tired (And How To Fix It). But in a nutshell, turn off all overhead lights, avoid screen exposure, wear blue light blocker glasses, install black out curtains and put duct tape over any bright LED lights (you want your sleep environment as dark as possible).
Finally, I recommend sleeping with an eye mask. For more sleeping tips see this article - How to Sleep On Planes and Beat Jet Lag. And remember, as soon as the sun rises in the morning, get outside and exposure the skin and eye to natural sunlight!
They may not win fashion awards - but they will help you sleep!
This may be hard to find but if you can get some time in a hyperbaric chamber after your trip, it will drastically help speed up your jet lag recovery. Though misaligned circadian rhythms make up the biggest fact to that groggy feeling after a long trip, pressurised aircraft cabins can create a state of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) in passengers.
This mild oxygen deprivation has been shown to impact ones melatonin levels post long haul flight (Coste 2004). Researchers speculate that hypoxia induced by cabin air pressure can contribute to the negative effects of jet lag. And that's where a hyperbaric chamber can come in handy.
Spend 30-60minutes in an oxygen saturated environment as soon as you touch down to replenish the bodies tissues with oxygen!
If you can handle another hour in a confined space, a hyperbaric chamber can do wonders for jet lag!
Once you reach your destination, avoid consuming carbs until early evening (local time). Don't go overboard with carb consumption, but a little bit of carbohydrate eaten around dinner time can help with serotonin production (which is a precursor to melatonin) and help help realign your bodies circadian rhythm with the local environments light/dark cycles.
If you land in the morning, aim to fast (go without food) until as late as possible OR at least avoid carbs until the late afternoon.
Just don't eat the carbs too late at night, you want insulin levels steady by the time you go to bed for optimal growth hormone and leptin release.
Dr Jack Kruse is the expert on DHA's role in the body and you can learn more about its importance in health and jet lag on his blog. But in a nutshell, stress from jet lag depletes a cells membrane of DHA. DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid found in shellfish and cold water fish. You could pop fish oil capsules, but these are easily oxidised - especially when travelling. Instead I recommend heading straight to the local oyster bar or failing that, pack a tin of sardines to eat when you land.
Post flight recovery meal?
One of the few times I recommend supplementing with melatonin is during long haul travel. An independent research group reviewed 10 studies on melatonin and concluded that it can be '...remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet lag'.
As mentioned numerous times already, resetting your circadian rhythms should be priority when trying to overcome jet lag, the best way to do this is by fixing your light cycles - being active and outdoors when it's day time and sleeping when it's dark. Melatonin supplementation can help with sleep on the first 1-3 nights once you arrive in your new destination, but it should only be used for the short term and priority should be given reestablishing the bodies circadian rhythm naturally.
I recommend taking 1-3mg of time release melatonin prior to bed (use code BHS654 if ordering on iherb). Swanwick Sleeps Sleep Supplement is also handy when travelling. For more tips on sleeping while travelling please read my article How to Sleep On Planes and Beat Jet Lag.
Once seen as a health remedy for the rich and famous, IV treatments are now accessible to all. Most cities have health & wellness clinics that provide IV therapy (and often they also provide other services such as hyperbaric chambers, normatec boots and infrared saunas - making them the perfect place to visit as soon as you land!). Thankfully, due to their effectiveness and growing popularity it no longer costs a small fortune to be hooked up to a saline drip packed full of vital nutrients.
If you can find a clinic that does IV therapy, I'd recommend getting a dose of:
Post long haul flight IV drip. Airports should offer these services!
Caffeine impacts our circadian rhythm so it can be used as a tool when travelling across time zones. If you land in the morning you want to be in the sun and stay up until nightfall, caffeine acts as a stimulant and blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that acts as a homeostatic regulator of sleep (Huang et al, 2011). It is a byproduct of cell activity that builds up during the day creating a 'sleepy' effect when levels get to a certain point.
Sleep clears out adenosine and resets the cycle. So if you have landed in a foreign land after a long flight with little sleep you may be feeling rather tired... Here is where caffeine can be extremely handy. Caffeine blocks the brains adenosine receptors - overriding the tiredness feeling we get due to lack of sleep. Therefore, you can use it to help realign the bodies sleep/wake cycles in a new time zone.
It's important to remember that caffeine does have a half-life of 6-8 hours, so only consume it in the morning and not to close to bed, otherwise you may have problems sleeping at night.
My final tip for curing jet lag fast is the Quantlet Device. At the time of writing it's not actually available on the market (but you can find out more and pre-order it here) but this device is going to revolutionise health & wellness (and help eliminate jet lag!)
The Quantlet device fits on your wrist and delivers light (using LEDs that emit IR light) and cold to the radial and ulnar arteries. In turn this creates vasodilation by increasing nitric oxide (increasing blood flow), reducing oxidative stress (accumulated during airline travel), cooling the body to help with sleep (helping reset circadian rhythms) and effectively recharging the bodies batteries at a cellular level (we are electric beings remember!).
Anyway, you can learn more about this on the Quantlets Indiegogo page, but I assure you it will only be a matter of time before all frequent flyers are wearing this device!
The ultimate jet lag cure?
The 15 tips above will help you overcome jet lag, but if you're a terrible sleeper even when not travelling around the world then you may need to spend some time improving your sleep quality. I have a full course that hels with this. It's called the Sound Asleep program and it takes you through every step needed to fix your sleep once and for all. Learn more about it by clicking here.
So there you have it, 15 tips to cure jet lag fast!
The key takeaways are simple - realign the bodies wake/sleep cycles with the local light/dark cycles, minimize inflammation and oxidative stress from flying, prioritize sleep and utilize various bio-hacks if they are available!
Did I miss something? Do you have your favorite jet lag remedy? I'd love to hear your comments and feedback. If you enjoyed this article or found it informative please let me know by leaving a comment below, I love hearing from readers and I hope I can help you minimize the nasty effects of jet lag on your next trip!
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This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is an ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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