A Connection Between Jetlag And Eating Regular Meals, What About It?

First Posted: Oct 11, 2016 04:40 AM EDT

If you love traveling then you must know that jet-lag is one of the most common problems for those who have crossed several time zones. Although different methods of sleeping can ease this condition, researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom have found that regulating meal times, not sleep, can have a positive effect on jet lag.

Jet lag happens when you experience different symptoms as a result of adjusting to a change in light-dark schedule following a flight to a different time zone. The body's internal clock or circadian rhythm signals the body when to stay awake and when to go to sleep. Jet lag happens because the body clock is still in sync to the original time zone and not the destination time zone. In addition to a disturbance of sleep pattern, symptoms of jet lag can include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, disorientation, irritability, and loss of appetite.

A study published in the journal Psychology and Health has found that jet-lag in long-haul cabin crew is managed when meal times are regulated on their days off. According to Eurekalert, researchers from the University of Surrey looked into long-haul cabin crew since the study is focused on those who frequently suffer from jetlag because of traveling to different time zones. Normal recommendations to counteract jetlag include prescribed medications or light therapy, since the circadian rhythms can be influenced by exposure to sunlight.

Combining exposure to sunlight with exercise may also help your body adapt to a new time zone quickly. Caffeinated beverages may also help offset daytime sleepiness. Although sleep hygiene measures such as sleeping in a quiet, dark room and avoiding caffeine for 4 hours before bed can help promote alertness, these measures will not help the circadian rhythm adapt.

"Jet-lag is a common problem for long-haul cabin crew, particularly during days off, as many prefer to adapt to local time on layovers as staying in the home time zone interferes with leisure and eating activities," says Cristina Ruscitto, Ph.D., from the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey. "However, adapting to the home time zone on days off is particularly important for fitting in with home life and ultimately for well-being."

For the study, Ruscitto, who completed her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees part-time while simultaneously working as long-haul cabin crew, and colleagues tested their theory that following a simple meal plan the day before the trip and on the first and second day off on the crew's return would reduce jet lag and increase alertness. The team enrolled 60 long-haul crew members to take part in one of two trials. The first group had to plan to eat regular meals during their days off, and the second group did not follow anything for their meal times, Medical News Today reported.

According to the findings, while the participants became more jet lagged during their flights, they found that eating regular meals during their days off lowered the levels of jet lag during both their recovery days. Science Daily reported that those who were a part of the intervention meal plan group were more alert than participants in the control group.

Meanwhile, the researchers note that eating meals at regular times with the light-dark cycles helps in the synchronization of the circadian system. The study shows that meal times can be used to effectively fight jet lag in long-haul crew through a self-directed meal plan to eat regularly. "It will be interesting to conduct further research to see whether the positive effects shown through a regular eating plan persist for a longer follow-up period and whether the effect is down simply to regular meals or whether the timing and what you eat has an effect," Ruscitto concludes.

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