You’re pumped for the trip of a lifetime that seems to have taken just as long in coming around. Finally, after a day and a night travelling plus basically zero sleep, you reach your destination. It’s a momentous occasion but the actual enjoyment will have to wait - the need for sleep is overwhelming and it’s only 9am local time. There’s gotta be a better way…
Even in the 21st century, the first in recorded history to start with humans travelling vast distances within hours through the sky, the best tried and true methods for beating that cunning oxymoron jet lag come from working with nature – ingesting her bounty and operating with your body’s natural, clock-like rhythms. Here are some handy tips to employ before, during and after your flight which will help you ease into your new time zone without the crash landing.
Food - What you put into Your Body Counts
Rather than counting sheep, make what goes into your body count. We all know that you probably shouldn’t have a cup of coffee then expect a solid sleep. But what about some other common foods which have the power to put you to sleep or to wake you that don’t even appear on your flight radar?
Helpful foods for sleeping:
Walnuts, almonds, peanuts (basically any nut that takes your fancy)
They will all boost serotonin levels which aids in sleep.
Kiwi fruit, banana, blueberries, grapes.
These fruits in particular have high amounts of tryptophan and magnesium, minerals with sedative-like qualities. Grapes also contain melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that helps put your body to sleep. Before you try and outsmart Mother Nature with a lab creation, studies show that vitamins and minerals consumed through food are more beneficial (actually work) than those taken in pill form. So instead of walking with a rattle from the melatonin bottle, bag up some grapes and enjoy!
Chickpeas, leafy greens
With far more calcium than dairy, leafy greens not only take care of your bones, they also contribute to quality of sleep. Chickpeas are packed (travel pun intended) with vitamin B6 and serotonin. Enjoy both as a snack by making kale chips or buying those delightful oven-baked, salted chickpea packets.
Oats, wholegrains, rice
Oats and wholegrains are another natural source of our mate serotonin and they make you feel full after eating – both contribute to a sound sleep. Aside from a bowl of porridge, consume oats by enjoying oatmeal cookies and choose whole grain bread rather than white.
Above: lugaw or rice porridge. Photo by: China D @projectgoals.ph
It’ll knock you out but the slumber party won’t last. Even a small amount can linger around your bloodstream affecting the quality of your sleep. Better to stick with water, coconut water or a cup of calming camomile tea.
Foods that will wake you up:
The thermogenic properties of chillies make your body’s core temperature rise. This is in opposition to your body’s natural response when resting which is to decrease temperature. So, a spicy meal for lunch or some hot sauce with your breakfast can give your body a jump start.
Photo by: China D @projectgoals.ph
Dark chocolate contains theobromine which is similar to caffeine. Also full of polyphenols and flavanols, the cacao in dark chocolate has other health benefits including reduced inflammation, better blood flow, lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels - so a hot chocolate made from pure cacao powder can be an even better buzz than coffee.
Tomatoes are full of tyramine. The compound can induce the production of norepinephrine — a neurotransmitter that can stimulate brain activity.
Apples contain a high amount of vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre. The natural (and good for you) sugar in apples provide a similar response in the body as caffeine. All of this combined together makes an apple better than a cup of coffee for a slowly released, sustained energy boost.
The caffeine bean. Just be sure to combine it with healthy meals and you won’t feel the crash once its effects wear off.
That list should give you a sense of direction but it’s by no means exhaustive. Basically, just keep it sensible and simple - eat healthy plant based whole foods, stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol if you want to sleep and hit the cacao and coffee when you want to boost your energy.
Combine eating well and timing what you eat with...
Tricking your body clock
Go with Your Bodily Flow
Catch the natural lulls of your body according to your old time zone in order to adjust to the new time zone. Use your body’s circadian rhythms (might as well, they come for free as part of having a body) and make the afternoon nap of your old time zone the bedtime of your new time zone. Whatever adjustment you have to make, depending on which direction you’ve flown, just repurpose nap times to bedtimes.
Time your naps.
If your natural lull has come way too soon for bedtime in your new time zone and you can’t push through, just limit it to 30 mins.
Don’t be tempted to sleep in in order to catch up.
Sure, you may replenish your sleep credit, but as far as being on local time, you’re way behind. Set an alarm and listen to it – don’t hit snooze. You’ll survive on a few hours sleep and you’ll be adjusted way sooner than if you indulge in more sleep.
Leave the curtains open before you go to bed and let the natural morning light stream in. This is the best signal for your body to orient itself and adjust to the new time zone.
Photo by: China D @projectgoals.ph
This is one to do before and after your flight. Not only will your body be ready and compliant when it comes to rest time, but the chemicals released through physical exertion also help to release stress, make you fall asleep faster and sleep for longer. Win, win, win.
Photo by: China D @projectgoals.phWhen it comes to jet lag, there’s no avoiding it completely and there’s no one magic anti-jet lag pill to fix it instantly. However, as we’ve discussed, there’s certainly a number of ways that are in your control to reduce its effects down to a couple of hand luggage sized bags rather than lugging big bags around for days.
Project Goals Recommends:
If you’re interested in the effects that flight travel has on your body and the best ways to curve them, check out Project Sunrise, a non-stop London to Sydney research flight that was conducted by Qantas in 2019. Not only is it informative, but it’s historic both in reference to similar flights executed in secret during WWII and in being the first modern flight to complete the “double sunrise” feat.
 Whole, Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, T. Colin Campbell, PhD