Peoples have known for many centuries that our bodies work on internal rhythms, and that adopting certain patterns and routines can support those rhythms. In the Preface to my book, The Rhythms of Wellness, I mention that in 2017 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm, and that over the following few years many people in modern society became increasingly aware of how intimately linked we are to the natural world around us and how body functions operate in coordinated patterns. We can use this to our advantage when we know we will be travelling across time zones which could easily lead to jet lag.
In this article I would like to speak about two powerful influencers of our body clock: the passage of the sun across the sky, and our eating habits.
When we leave one time zone and arrive in another, the hours of daylight we are exposed to has been artificially shifted. We experience this as a disruption in our functioning, which is noticeable even when we shift 1 hour per day to and from Daylight Savings Time. Across vast distances, when the time change could be 4, 8, or even 16 hours, the disruption is more significant.
On a recent trip abroad, I awoke at 4am France time to begin my trip home, and didn’t go to bed that evening until 9pm Calgary time, experiencing ‘daytime sunlight’ lasting 17 hours. This was during the season of autumn when daylight length is typically about 11 hours. By taking steps to align our bodies with the new time zone as soon and as comfortably as possible (more on how to do that below), it lessens the impact.
The second powerful influence on our body clock is our eating and drinking habits. Nothing says ‘morning’ like a cup of coffee. Most people eat different foods for breakfast than they do for dinner, and our bodies get accustomed to our habits. While adjusting to the altered sunlight we can choose to refrain from eating until our meals can align with the time zone we are entering.
Combining our understanding of these two patterns creates a synergistic effect, meaning that it is greater than one would expect just adding the two together. When both the timing of sunlight and the pattern of eating/drinking are adjusted to be in harmony with each other we receive the greatest benefit.
What does this look like on a practical level?
Going back to my trip to France, the flight left Calgary around 7:30pm and I had eaten a light meal earlier in the afternoon. Soon after take-off we were offered food, which I declined. Once the lights were dimmed, I tried to sleep as much as I could. In the ‘morning’ I declined the breakfast offered, and satisfied myself with a little fruit juice and some water. We arrived in France about noon and after an hour or so travel to the train station, stopped for lunch. I was now eating on France time. I also had a light dinner on the train around 6pm. Arriving at my desination about 9:30pm France time, I was offered home made soup, which was very tempting, but I turned it down. I made sure that no matter how tired I was, and how much I wanted to sleep, that I would be sure to be awake just before sunrise so my eyes could take in the change in light from night to day, and send the signals to my organs of what new time zone I was in. As of that morning I ate my usual meals according to my usual patterns and preferences. I was now calibrated to the new time zone and did not experience any jet lag.
The return trip was not as easy to manage, but I stuck with the protocol, trusting the benefits. I awoke at 4am France time, and had approximately 5-6 hours of train ride and getting to the airport. I did not eat at all during that time. I had a little bit of fruit juice and water. Once settled in the boarding area, now 2pm France time, I had my ‘morning’ coffee (6am Calgary time). On the plane I did not eat the entree provided, but instead had a very light breakfast of a granola bar and another small coffee, calculating that it would now be ‘morning’ in Calgary. When the lights were dimmed for sleeping, I made sure I turned my overhead light on and kept myself busy, reading, working on my computer, etc. I arrived home in the early afternoon, had dinner with my family, went to bed around 8 or 9 pm (earlier than usual for sure) and woke in time to see the changing light the next morning. My body was now re-calibrated to ‘home’.
Every body is unique and every person’s system is finely tuned to their habits and patterns. If you typically don’t sleep well, or eat at all hours, then this might not work as well for you. I certainly did experience a wave or two of fatigue the day after travel, but it lasted about 10 minutes and didn’t significantly affect my quality of life. I also woke up in the early morning for a day or two after, but was able to get back to sleep with no problem.
Give it a try and see how it works. What have you got to lose? I admit it takes some effort, but its well worth it. I’ve heard people complain about it taking weeks to get back to normal after a significant time shift. I consider the brief discomfort as an investment. One that yields rewards within a day!
When leaving home:
Fast from food while actually travelling through time zones. Drink only water or a little bit of fruit juice)
When arriving in the new time zone, eat the meals according to the new schedule. Don’t eat anything after dinner time (to further allow your body to adjust).
Wake up the following morning in time to see the changing light.
When returning home:
Fast from food and beverages from the time you wake up until you can align with the time zone you are returning to.
Do not sleep if it is ‘daytime’ at home.
Once landed, eat according to ‘home’ patterns. Do not eat anything after dinner.
Wake up the following morning in time to see the changing light.
That’s it! If you are interested in learning more about our body clocks and how they are affected by the suns passage across the sky, consider reading The Rhythms of Wellness. The first few chapters are available (read by yours truly) on my website.
I’ll end with a couple of testimonials:
"March and April of 2023 I went to the UK. To prepare I was given the jet leg protocol from Jaki. What I noticed is no jet lag going to London. I was gone for 1 week and upon returning I was back to work the next morning at 8am. I noticed a feeling of being a little tired for 3 days around 3pm. After that back to normal. The second trip a month later I once again had no jet lag going and a week later coming home I was also jet lag free. Considering I was working 7 days a week in between each trip this was more then helpful and supportive."
"I recently traveled to France from Canada and followed the process Jaki has developed to eliminate jet lag and was amazed by the results. It is an 8-hour time change and I had almost no jet lag going or returning. The second night I would wake at about 3 am, and struggle to get back to sleep for a while, eventually falling back asleep. By following her protocol I was able to fully function from the day I landed. It is truly amazing."