Flying Considerations: How to beat jet lag and improve performance

Jet lag has the potential to wreck your performance, whether a competitive athlete or a travelling businessman / woman you need to be aware of tactics you can use to overcome jet lag as quickly as possible.

In my recent article relating to the effects of flying on digestion I discussed the use of fasting or modified fasting methods to sustain healthy digestion during flight and the subsequent days after. This is also important to help you get over jet lag as quickly as possible as we want the gut functioning to its most optimal all the time. A poor functioning gut has the potential to make you feel like rubbish, jet lag or no jet lag.

Flying from west to east is undoubtedly the most challenging direction. Usually east to west is no challenge at all, so long as you are reasonably sensible about your sleep routine the days leading up to your east to west departure, you are able to adapt very quickly.

Unfortunately when flying from west to east you will often experience far worse symptoms. For athletes, research on the Canadian national bobsled team has shown drops in short sprint performance equating to 3 -12% within the first 4 days of travelling.

Thus if you are travelling only for a couple of days the best thing is to remain on your original destination time zone and not attempting to make any significant changes to your circadian rhythm. If however you are expected to be located there for longer than 3-4 days and expected to function at your most optimal then a jet lag strategy is required.

Simple tips for combating jet lag as quickly as possible

1. Stay hydrated always

Make sure you hit your fluid goal. Some may benefit from some minerals being added to their water or a really good quality sea salt to make sure they are holding their water properly.

2. Use melatonin when you should feel sleepy

Supplementing from 3-6mg of oral melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone produced more at night. The rise in melatonin is thought to be responsible for inducing sleep. For some sublingual melatonin works better and usually requires a lower dose 1-3mg.

3. Set your alarm and get up

One of the best things to do is get yourself back into a regular waking time. This might mean setting your alarm early and committing to getting up. Once up use some caffeine if tolerated and get on your computer to stimulate the brain to start producing some of your awakening hormones.

4. Use caffeine to your advantage

Making use of caffeine in the morning is fine, but make sure it is avoided anywhere near your new bedtime.

5. Short naps have a place.

A short nap can have a place, so long as you restrict it to no more than 20mins. It should not significantly effect your ability to get to sleep that evening so long as it is not close to when you are meant to go to sleep.

6. Eat red meats and avoid high carb meals when you need to be awake.

Red meats have the ability to help increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is particularly good at increasing mental focus and drive.

7. Eat carbs and white fish when you want to get sleepy.

Carbs are great at increasing serotonin. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin and may help induce sleep more effectively.

8. Use phosphatidylcholine to raise the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Raising acetylcholine is another neurotransmitter than can increase mental focus, drive and generally up regulate brain activity. Taking phosphatidylcholine during daylight hours and melatonin during your new nighttime hours could be a good tactic. Around 600-1200mg once-twice daily in the morning or early PM should be sufficient.

9. Avoid computer use in the nighttime hours.

Computer use stimulates the body to produce more awakening hormones and suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin.

10. Perform diaphragmatic breathing / meditation in the evening and take an Epsom salt bath.

Both of these can help lower stress response and can be utilised to help induce sleep. Please read my articles on diaphragmatic breathing, meditation & Epsom Salt baths for more information.

11. Start to get into the right time zone days before travel.

Starting to move your sleep cycle by one hour at a time can produce less of a shock on the system, so systematically planning your sleep and wake times can really help with this.

I hope you found this helpful. For specific help putting together nutrition and lifestyle strategies to suit your own demands please feel free to contact me to book an appointment, either on Skype or my Marylebone Clinic in Central London.

In the next flying considerations article we look at how to support the immune system and help prevent the post flight cold/flu that so many people suffer with.

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