There are a number of factors that contribute to the amount of jet lag you feel after crossing a few timezones. Fatigue, flight times, and stress all cause your body and mind to be out of sorts when you arrive at your destination. That feeling is in large part due to your internal body clock not being set to the local time. You can however get a head start on jet lag by setting your body clock from the organ that regulates much of it – your liver.
Why The Liver, And Why Just Sleeping Early Won’t Help
Most people try to get some extra rest (or go out all night) the day before their long flight to compensate for jet lag. The problem is that your mind heavily relies on visual cues to set your circadian (daily) internal clock. That means that despite your best efforts, you’ll find it tough to sleep when the sun is coming up, no matter how tired you are. The second most powerful time cue for your brain comes from your liver. It controls your “food clock” which is a big part of helping your brain decide what time it really is.
Shift Your Mealtimes 24 Hours In Advance
In reality, changing your sleeping habits more than an hour or two outside of your normal bed times is more likely to make you tired the day of your flight and throw off your body clock even further.
Instead, begin shifting your mealtimes, 24 hours before your flight, to match the times you normally eat according to the local time at your destination. So, if you normally eat dinner at 5pm, eat dinner at 5pm destination time.
Follow this schedule the day before your flight and continue it on the plane as well.
How Manipulating Your Food Clock Works
Your “food clock” is a powerful indicator for your body and often overrides your brain’s master clock, especially when you’re hungry. When you’re body is running low on food, the liver’s food clock gets priority, keeping you awake and alert. (Likely an evolutionary adaptation forcing us to keep looking for food, despite being fatigued from starvation.)
Make It Easier On Yourself
You might not find the idea of eating in the middle of the night very appealing, but you might be able to get around that by shifting your body clock using peanuts and using your bladder as an alarm clock, which works on long drives as well.
- Sleep deprivation and jet lag both greatly interfere with your decision making so don’t discount the benefits of a good nap if you need one.
The goal isn’t to completely eliminate jet lag (which probably isn’t possible) but to reduce its effects so you can use that day or two after arrival to see the things you want with a clear head.
[photos by: dotbenjamin (spoon in belly), Express Monorail (clock at Disneyland)]
My Dad sometimes uses this strategy when he travels half-way around the world and needs to be prepared for a serious meeting the next day. I think he uses a combination of eating habits and sleeping pills to do his best. Great advice, and changing your meal plans really can take that groggy edge off jet lag!
I like it too because seems like changing up meal times is less jarring than sleeping at funky hours. Your dad has a good strategy in place – rest and eating habits make those long flights sooo much easier once you arrive.
I like the idea of preparing your food clock before hand, I might have to do that in Japan, this will be my first trip somewhere with a huge time difference.
You’ll have to switch your banana time 🙂
I can’t say that I’ve ever tried this – I normally use sunshine as much as possible to keep my clock in tuned – that means immediately going out for a walk in a new place to absorb the sunshine right then…really helps me because your body also responds to the different types of light when setting your internal schedule! 🙂
It’s incredible how it happens. No matter how tired we are, seeing the sun makes it almost impossible to rest well.
I spent nine years flying quarterly from Australia to the USA and tried several different approaches to avoiding jet lag (fortunately all that is over now). It is much worse flying east than west. The only thing I really found successful is to eat and drink in moderation on the flight and to sleep when you are tired. If you get to the US in the day, which I typically did landing in LA or SF, walk around in the sunshine for a while as the brain adapts quickly to seeing sunlight and readjusts its idea of time. And don’t have a late afternoon nap – wait till normal bedtime whatever you need to do to stay awake!!
A very important point – those naps feel good for the moment but can really keep your internal clock off kilter.
I’ve always tried to start shifting eating and sleeping a few days beforehand but I also know people swear by not eating at all on long flights. I just can’t do that as it keeps me occupied for hours 🙂
I couldn’t skip the meals on planes completely either.
Interesting concept. Since long haul flights and Australia go hand in hand, I stick to sleeping tablets and eat beforehand. Disrupting my pattern for 24 earlier would stress me too much.
(That spoon in belly photo is awful!! A skinnier person would have made it more bearable!)
haha, someone actually emailed me about that photo! I thought long and hard before posting it, pretty gross I admit. Now *that’s* got to be an unhealthy liver in there I’m guessing.
First, I have to chime in with the others to say that is the most disgusting photo ever. I am fortunate that I have only ever experienced jet lag once. For some reason, I seem to be able to adapt to whatever time zone I am in instantly. I suspect this may have something to do with the fact that I can never sleep on the night before I fly, so I just end up staying awake all night. By the time it is night time in my destination, I am dog-tired, and I sleep like a rock, no matter what the time of day back home or regardless of light and dark conditions.
I have to admit, I can’t wait until a post or two goes by and that belly is off the homepage 🙂