Travel Like Ronald Reagan

Last month, I spent days on airplanes... flying all over the world between both hemispheres. I went to Portugal, Denmark, Canada, and China.

If you've ever flown across several time zones, you've probably felt the dreaded effects of jet lag: insomnia, nausea, headache, fatigue – even depression and anxiety.

A fancy term for jet lag is circadian rhythm desynchronosis. Basically, this means you suffer from the effects of having your body's "internal clock" thrown off balance, thanks to the change in daylight within your new environment. Roughly 20,000 nerve cells make up this "clock," or the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).

The SCN sits right in the center of your brain in a section called the hypothalamus. It takes cues from light to regulate circadian rhythms. That's why you're usually tired when it's dark and awake when there's light.

Interestingly, scientists have even found that people flying east have a worse time than those going west. This isn't foreign to me, especially when I come back to Baltimore after visiting my winery in California.

But there's a simple solution to jet lag...

All you've got to do is put down your fork.

In the late 1970s, biologist and World War II veteran Dr. Charles Ehret incorporated fasting into his Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet. His diet caught on, and by the 1980s, members of the U.S. military followed this four-day schedule of switching between feasting and fasting to lessen jet lag during deployment.

According to Ehret's method, you feast on days one and three, and fast on days two and four before you arrive. And then you break the fast with breakfast on the fifth day. The military folks who followed this successfully reduced their symptoms of jet lag. (Apparently, even President Ronald Reagan used this strategy to great success.)

Let's say you're planning to arrive on Wednesday... Here's how you would use Ehret's method: 

  • Saturday – Feast
  • Sunday – Fast
  • Monday – Feast
  • Tuesday – Fast
  • Wednesday morning arrival – Break your fast

Decades later, Dr. Clifford Saper and his team of Harvard researchers found a second metabolic "clock" in the brain called the dorsomedial hypothalamus. This one responded to changes in whether food was available. Afterwards, Saper suggested a simpler version of the Argonne diet to reset your circadian rhythm:

1. Decide on what time you want to eat breakfast at your destination.

For example, I'm going to travel from Dallas (Central time) to Dublin, and I'm planning on having a full Irish breakfast at 9:00 a.m.

2. Figure out when that is, in your current location's time zone. Then don't eat for 12 to 16 hours before this time.

9:00 a.m. in Dublin is the same as 3:00 a.m. Central time. So, sometime between 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Central, I'll start my fast.

Make sure that you're continuing your fast during the flight, and that you're staying properly hydrated by avoiding caffeine and alcoholic beverages. If fasting isn't for you, then just stick to a light, pre-flight meal.

If you're having trouble falling asleep due to jet lag, try a successful military relaxation technique similar to meditation. In a U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School's study, 96% of the pilots used this little trick to fall asleep in under two minutes – even in a sitting position.

Basically, you relax different parts of your body starting from head to toe. Start with relaxing the muscles in your face, because that'll make it easier to loosen up the other parts. At the end, take about 10 seconds to try your best to clear your mind of everything that has happened in the day.

Finally, another interesting way to get some quick and effective shut-eye is as simple as making sure that just your feet are warm. Specifically, try wearing a pair of socks or try a soothing foot bath before bed. Warming up the feet tricks your brain into thinking that your body's getting too hot. What happens next is a phenomenon called vasodilation, where your blood vessels dilate and expand. This makes it a lot easier for the warming blood to be moved away from the core of your body, causing a cooldown and triggering sleepiness.

If you haven't already, check out our list of seven ways to improve your sleep. We've already mentioned that keeping your bedroom cool helps to get your body ready for sleep, so try putting on some socks as well.

Do you have more tips for fighting jet lag? Send them our way... [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 13, 2019