Changing Meal Times May Help with Jet Lag

Food and sleep

New research has found that:

  • By regulating meal times on days off, long-haul cabin crew members can make jet lag less uncomfortable
  • Generally, long-haul cabin crew avoid jet lag by relying on specific sleep patterns and strategies like avoiding caffeine or sleeping in a completely dark room, but these strategies do not help reset circadian rhythm or biological clocks.
  • Further research is needed to determine if changing meal times and content has a positive effect on jet lag.

This new study was published in the journal, Psychology and Health.  It reported that long-haul cabin crew members can alleviate their jet lag by regulating meal times on their days off.

Research was done out of the University of Surrey.  It recruited long-haul cabin crew members for the study since they are the most common sufferers of jet lag due to constant and rapid travel between time zones.  Jet lag was most pronounced on their leg home, with other symptoms present like fatigue, sleep deprivation, moodiness, appetite changes, and declined cognitive performance.  Melatonin and other sleep aids were prohibited in this study because scientists did not want sedative effects present.

Further, while sleep hygiene like sleeping in a cool, dark room, and avoiding caffeine at least four hours before bed, are needed on a regular basis, the participants were asked to avoid these because they do not reset the biological sleep-wake clocks.

A total of 60 flight crew members participated in the study and took part in one of two tests.  One group planned to eat regular meals at regular times on their days off, and the other group had no plan for meals on those days.  For the most part, participants had an average of three days off after their trip.  Findings showed that meal times and plans were important for overall well-being and helping cabin crew adapt their biological clock during those days off.

Cristina Ruscitto, lead author of this study from the University of Surrey School of Psychology, noted that long-haul cabin crew members are most affected by jet lag during their days off because they try to acclimate to local time during those layovers rather than trying to adjust their activities and eating to their home time zone.  However, researchers note that adapting the home time zone to those layover days off is particularly beneficial and improves overall well-being, decreasing the effects of jet lag.

Scientists noted that the crew relies heavily on sleep to alleviate symptoms of jet lag rather than eating habits, which generally makes sense; however, this research indicates that meal times and a plan based on your home time zone are essential to resetting the biological body clock.

Further research will be interesting, Ms. Ruscitto notes, in that it will help them determine whether the positive effects of meal planning and regulation found in this study will persist for longer than the few days they were monitored.  A followup with these participants is necessary to determine the effects of whether simply having regular meal times makes a difference in jet lag symptoms.

 Reference:  https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/uos-jig100516.php

Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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