I've been doing a lot of travel lately...I'm no expert, and I'm not immune to jet lag, but I have found some ways to minimize the negative effects. Today, I'm sharing these strategies with you on this listener request episode of the OPP.
What is jet lag?
In it’s simplest definition, jet-lag is the disruption of our body’s internal clock – or circadian rhythm – due to travel through or across multiple time zones.
While everyone reacts and responds differently, symptoms include brain fog, sleepiness, sleeplessness, and a lack of mental focus or alertness. Typically, travel of greater length or greater difference in time zones results in greater the disruption and increased “jet-lag”.
Why Does Jet Lag Occur?
Our clocks and watches can easily be reset to show a new time when we arrive at a destination several time zones away. Now our smart phones and computers can recognize this time shift and update themselves automatically. Unfortunately, by comparison, the software in our bodies is archaic and does not understand how to instantly “reset” itself hours ahead or behind with the flip of a switch.
We need time to adjust – and that time is what’s affectionately called Jet-lag.
What’s happening to our bodies?
When we cram hundreds of people inside a metal tube, recirculate stale air, soar to elevations that require pressurized oxygen, bombard our bodies with radio and microwaves, and sit stationary for extended periods of time, we’re creating a veritable witch’s brew of bodily stress.
In one Sports Medicine study in 1989, doctors analyzed athletes and noted decreased performance after traveling internationally and domestically. The condition (known as dysrhythmia) was associated with malaise, appetite loss, tiredness, and disturbed sleep .
All of these were symptoms of shifts of the light / dark cycle, which impairs the body's ability to regulate biological clock and associated functions - sleep, hormone production, body temperature, use energy stores, and it affects water excretion - all of which compound to negatively impact mental and physical performance.
This sucks - because whether you travel for work or pleasure, we all want to be at our best when we're on the road.
Jet lag and these air-travel stressors may be unavoidable, but there are some “travel hacks” we can employ to lower the physical toll on our body and reduce the time required to adjust and recover so we can perform at our normal capacities – both mentally and physically – as quickly as possible.
9 Travel Tips To Reduce Jet Lag
Our goal with these travel tips is to minimize the negative effects of air travel and to reduce the disruption of our body’s natural clocks so that we can feel and perform as close to optimal as possible.
Change Your Watch Immediately
This tip is brought to you by Mark Sisson. Mark shared this with us when he appeared on the OPP last summer. As soon as you board your plane, train, ship or other mode of transportation, change the time on your watch, phone, and computer to the time at your destination. This gives your brain and body more time to adapt to the new time zone.
It sounds too simple to work, but it's surprisingly effective.
Use Light Therapy
The following is taken from a previous Natural Stacks newsltter where we shared the Human Charger as a Biohack of The Week.
If you're not getting these valuable messages, make sure you sign up. The OPP code to save 20% on your own HumanCharger is still active.
BioHack of the Week: Light Therapy With The HumanCharger
This week's BioHack of the Week is all about using light to boost your energy and mood.
One of my new favorite tools for optimization is called the HumanCharger - and it's literally "sunshine in your pocket".
You can use the HumanCharger to:
- Beat jet lag
- Defeat the winter blues (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
- Or, like I do - to combat the urge to sleep at 8pm because it's December and the sun went down before 5pm.
The HumanCharger looks like an iPod and comes with special headphones that are actually LED lights.
So How Does It Work?
HumanCharger says it best:
"Recent discoveries have shown that the surface of the brain has photosensitive receptors, much like those located in the retina of the eye.
These photosensitive receptors can be accessed by light flowing through the ear canal.
The HumanCharger® bright light therapy device does just that. It channels light directly to the light sensitive regions of the brain via the ears using their advanced LEDSet earbuds."
The unit is incredibly simple to use. It has a single button to turn it on and it runs for a 12 minute cycle. Best of all, you can do it while you meditate, cook, run, work, ride the train...whatever.
Use Their App For Jet Lag
The HumanCharger app is brilliantly designed to tell you exactly when to use the unit to beat jet lag on your flights.
All you have to do is enter your flight info and the App tells you when to use use the unit - you don't have to do any calculating!
Here's a screenshot from my NYC - Moscow flight: The app says to use the unit twice in the morning prior to take off, then if we scroll to the right (not in the image) it directs me to use the unit every hour, on the hour when I land in Moscow at 10:30am the next day.
How I'm using it:
I was recently in Finland where it was dark by 3:30 in the afternoon. That really messed up my circadian rhythm!
That experience gave me the idea to use the HumanCharger daily between 4-5pm at the computer to "delay" my body's natural winding down.
This has worked surprisingly well.
With a single 12-minute session on the HumanCharger, I stay alert and productive for several more hours and can wind down when I normally do in the summer hours.
My sleep is great (I'm tracking it) and my mood + energy levels are where I want them to be.
Truthfully, I've always slowed down in the winter months - maybe it's the holidays, maybe it's the cold, maybe it's the lack of sunshine.
So far, the HumanCharger has shown promise as a tool to prevent the darkness-related slow down that comes with the winter months.
Fasting and/or Ketosis
Sitting stationary for many hours at a time is never good for circulation. Add pressure and altitude to the equation and we’ve got a recipe for all sorts of disruption to our homeostasis.
Poor circulation means reduced oxygen and nutrient delivery to every cell in our body. Other potential circulation issues include edema and swelling, aches and pains, even potential for blood clots – especially in the legs and feet.
Here’s how you can get around it:
- Compression/Circulation Socks: You can find these at most outdoor or running stores (Dick’s, Sports Authority, etc).
- Compression Pants: Wear these under your jeans, sweats, or whatever normal pants you travel in. Although there are numerous brands from which to choose, at the time of this writing, our favorite is Virus. Check them out HERE.
One serious component of jet-lag is the disruption of sleep. The better quality sleep we get on the plane, the better we feel – and perform – when we arrive at our destination. Short of buying a high-price ticket for a luxury flight with a full bed, there isn’t much we can do about the space or seats on a plane. Fortunately, there are several “hacks” we can use to increase our chances of getting to sleep and improving the quality of that sleep.
- Eye masks or sunglasses: When we fly, we’re (obviously) closer to the sun, but most people fail to account for the fact that we’re in a thinner part of the Earth’s atmosphere. We’re exposed to greater amounts of cosmic radiation – and our eye’s take the brunt of that. Even if you’re not planning to sleep, close your window shade and at the very least, wear some high-quality UV blocking sunglasses.
- Pillows: Neck pains and tight, angry backs from terrible posture compound jet lag problems. A pillow that helps prevent terrible posture not only improves sleep on the plane, but can reduce nexk and back pain AFTER your flight. Also try hugging your backpack in your lap and leaning forward onto it for a makeshift pillow.
- Noise-canceling headphones: Planes are loud. Especially if your seat is near the engine. Crying babies are bad for our sanity. Chatty neighbors and annoying conversations…all GONE when you enter a cocoon of solitude and peace with noise-canceling headphones. You’ll be able to work, write, read or sleep at your leisure.
- Time your sleep on the plane to match the waking/sleeping schedule at your destination.
There is no fresh air on an airplane. The air we breathe on those enclosed metal tubes is recirculated throughout the cabin for the duration of the flight. And there isn’t much “airing out” while the planes refuel and board for the next flight.
While we’re in that metal tube we’re also exposed to increased radiation – both from inside the plane and due to thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes.
In short, our immune system gets BOMBED with germs, bacteria, and all sorts of performance robbing villains. Give your immune system a boost with these strategies:
- Activated Charcoal: Take 2-4 caps before and after your flight to help absorb and excrete any germs and toxins that make their way into your body.
- Glutathione: The body’s master antioxidant, glutathione provides a huge immune boost. We like the Upgraded Glutathione from our friends at Bulletproof. Take a dose before and your flight with your activated charcoal (in addition to your daily dose). You can get the Glutathione and Charcoal from Bulletproof here.
- Vitamin C + Zinc: The numerous benefits of Vitamin C for the immune system are fairly well-known. We’ve written about them extensively in several previous posts (seen here). When combined, Vitamin C and Zinc reduce both the severity and duration of the common cold, and when taking long-term, Vitamin C can reduce incidence of the common cold as well.  Take it daily, and up your dose to 4-5 times normal levels when traveling.
- Lots Of Water (Mineral Water): Every health and travel expert agrees on this one. Staying hydrated is crucial. Don’t worry about having to use the restroom more – that’s a great excuse to get up and walk around more on your flight (see movement section below). If you can get mineral water like Pellegrino, Perrier, or best of all, Gerolsteiner, you provide your body essential minerals to help support immune and other metabolic functions.
- MycoIMMUNE - This triple shot of the most immune-boosting medicinal mushrooms contains Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Chaga. You can take the pills orally or like I do, seek out hot water from airport coffee shops and make a mushroom tea by cracking open the capsules.
There are 2 ways to achieve this. One can be done ON the plane, and the other as soon as you land.
On the plane, connect your skin to metal. The best way is to expose your heel and place it on the metal strip on the floor in front of your seat. Sounds weird – and the science isn’t conclusive – but there is no need to worry about being embarrassed – I do this every time I fly and nobody has ever noticed. Just kick off your shoes, roll down one sock and you’re good to go. As I learned from Dave Asprey, this keeps you grounded as if you were “Earthing” since the plane itself is grounded for electrical safety.
“Earthing” is the simple process of connecting to the Earth and letting the negative ions enter your body to eliminate free radicals and provide antioxidant benefits. The Earth maintains a negative charge on it’s surface. Recent research has shown that our immune systems function better when we have a surplus of electrons (negative ions).
This is why we always feel better at the ocean, by waterfalls, or otherwise exposed to nature – waves and waterfall are among the top negative ion producers.
No waves or waterfalls? No problem…
All you have to do is find some grass – outside the airport, at your hotel, or even sand the beach if you’re lucky enough to be going that way. Bottom line, as quickly as possible, get your feet in direct contact with the Earth and let Mother Nature restore the balance in your body before things get too crazy.
“Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.” – Best-selling author and Harvard Neuropsychiatry expert John J. Ratey, M.D.
ON THE PLANE
It’s simple. If you’re awake, move as much as possible. When you can, get out of your seat and walk. When you’re seated, focus on specific joints – ankles, wrists, and neck with rolls, figure-8’s, or draw the alphabet. The more you move, the more you circulate blood and prevent joint stiffness. You’ll also become more aware of your posture and potential positions that could lead to back or neck pain for the duration of your trip.
Check out this podcast with Aaron Alexander for more on hacking your seated position: Is Sitting the New Smoking?
AFTER THE FLIGHT
You don’t need to go straight to the squat rack and shoot for a new world record squat – nor should you (but that’s a story for a different blog). Expect your nervous system, balance, and other fine motor skills to be a bit off. This “workout” should be short (20-30 minutes), moderate intensity, and fun. It’s purpose it to get blood flowing, reset your nervous system, and restore full range of motion in basic movement patterns.
You can even incorporate this into your grounding and Earthing practice by doing the workout outside barefoot – in the sand or on some grass.
Here’s a sample: “reset” workout. This is adapted from Dan John’s Swing, Squat, Get-up sequence and it’s a great base here since it includes squats, hip hinges, ground based movements and I’ve added push-ups, crawls, and band pull-aparts include pushing, crawling, and pulling movements.
The band can easily fit in any carry-on luggage. If you don’t have DB’s or KB’s at your destination, you can do the bodyweight alternatives listed in parentheses below. Do 3 rounds of this circuit.
- Baby or Bear Crawl x 50’
- KB Swing x 25 (broad jumps x 5)
- Push-ups x 20
- Goblet Squat x 10 (unloaded – or find SOMETHING to hold!)
- Turkish Get up x 1/side (same movement, without load)
- Band Pull-Aparts x 20
For even the most experienced traveler, sleeping on a plane can sometimes prove difficult. Even with eye masks, pillows, and noise-canceling headphones, we might need a little help to relax, calm our minds, and get some restorative sleep. Enter the world of herbs…
- Melatonin – We’re not fans of hammering this pathway often. We prefer a more gentle approach (see Serotonin Brain Food) for long-term usage, but for occasional long flights across continents and oceans, taking melatonin can induce sleep and reduce the effects of jet lag.
- Serotonin Brain Food – This new supplement is quickly becoming a MUST-HAVE in our travel arsenal. Rhodiola can help reduce travel-related stress and anxiety, plus serotonin precursors and raw materials to support metabolism of this crucial neurotransmitter to increase mood and promote relaxation. Imagine travel without the stress of travel...