Having just come back from a month overseas in various time zones, I am reminded of the much-dreaded symptoms of jet lag. You likely know the irritated, anxious and exhaustive effects of a lack of sleep! Concentration wavers, energy levels plummet, appetite is haywire, digestion is compromised and your mood is less than pleasant. So, why does this happen?
The body’s sleep cycle plays a crucial role in many important bodily processes including hormonal regulation, brain function and mood, temperature, energy levels, heart rate, appetite, digestion and detoxification. These functions are specifically timed on our body’s 24-hour internal clock; they kick in or switch off according to night and day. Abrupt changes in time zones due to travel can upset our natural circadian rhythm, therefore disrupting this carefully timed schedule. Welcome jet lag!
The importance of sleep cannot be underestimated. When considering weight loss or maintenance, people tend to focus on good quality food and regular exercise. Sleep is often overlooked. However, a look at the above listed bodily processes it regulates shows just how important sleep is to our health and the factors that influence our weight. In fact, a lack of sleep actually leads to heightened appetite and less feelings of satisfaction after a meal due to its relationship with the hormones Ghrelin and Leptin.
Ghrelin and Leptin both act on the brain to regulate appetite and produce either feelings of hunger or satiety. Leptin is made by the fat cells and is also produced when we consume fat such as avocadoes, healthy oils and nuts. It switches off appetite, creating feelings of satisfaction (this is why consumption of healthy fats are known to suppress appetite). Ghrelin on the other hand, is a gut hormone made in the stomach, which enhances hunger by turning on appetite when the stomach is empty. A lack of sleep confuses this process and actually decreases levels of Leptin while increasing the “hunger hormone” Ghrelin. This is one of the main reasons why sleep is so important for weight loss/maintenance.
Ghrelin stimulates appetite, causing you to feel hungry even when you don’t necessarily need food! I felt this whilst I was overseas adjusting from one time zone to the next… in the middle of the night I woke up to abrupt hunger pangs for no particular reason – I had had a good dinner, it was dark and quiet, it was not time for breakfast – I simply was having a restless sleep and my rhythm was out of whack!
A holiday should be about rest and recuperation from daily life at home. This however is not always the case! Vacations often involve late nights, exhausting days, increased alcohol consumption and indulgence aplenty! This is also part of life and the travel experience. However, where possible, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to try your best to maintain a healthy sleep regiment before, during and after travel…
Tips to minimise the effects of jet lag
It is what you do prior to and on the flight that can be the most effective to ensuring it isn’t your worst sleepless nightmare! To minimise the negative effects of travel…
- Ensure adequate sleep in the lead-up to travel, an existing sleep deficit will only worsen the situation
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol just before and during the flight
- Keep well hydrated on board with water. Bring your own empty stainless steel water bottle and fill it up once past security from a water fountain to consume on flight when the cabin crew aren’t around
- During flight eat and sleep according to your destinations time zones – setting your watch once you board the plane is a great way to sync up
- Prepare your own healthy meals/snacks to avoid processed, sugar-laden, excessively salty airline food, which can interfere with sleep, digestion and mood. Take healthy fats like raw unsalted nuts to increase Leptin production
- Eyeshades and earplugs (or relaxing music) may help you sleep during the flight
- When you arrive get fresh air and sunshine as soon as you land to optimise melatonin production. This is also a great way to wake up in general – 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that it is daytime!
Tips for restful sleep
Regular sleep patterns have such a powerful effect on appetite control and weight. To ensure a good night sleep during and post travel try these tips…
- Do not use computers or phones 1 hour prior to sleep
- Avoid liquids 1-2 hours before bed. Sip chamomile tea 2 hours prior to induce calm
- Take a hot bath/shower 1-2 hours before bed – the temperature drop signals to your body its time for sleep
- Sniff lavender in bed to bring on sleepiness
- Take large diaphragmatic breaths to unwind, either in bed or just prior
- Keep the alarm clock out of sight so you aren’t constantly checking it
- Keep a pen and paper next to your bed in case you remember something you MUST jot down. This saves you getting up or using your brightly lit phone! And saves you the worry of remembering whatever it is in your sleepy state
- Stick to a consistent bed time and waking up schedule to form solid sleep patterns
- Sleep in total darkness