Jet lag

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This article is interesting because it may help you plan meals to help sleep.

"Jet-lag" - a troublesome situation which afflicts many inter-continental travellers. It highlights the problems of the inter-relations between circadian rhythms, sleep and food. Recently, a 'jet-lag diet' has been developed by Dr Charles Ehret of the US. Energy Argone National Laboratory, Illinois.

The principles of this diet tie together the effects of carbohydrates and caffeine. The diet consists of alternating days of fasting and feeding, culminating with breaking the final fast aboard the plane at the time of breakfast calculated for the point of destination. A more detailed description is given for a Wednesday flight take-off.

Three days before the flight, on Sunday, you 'feast' on a high protein diet for breakfast and lunch (e.g. meat, fish, eggs) with a high carbohydrate supper (dinner) (e.g. potatoes, rice and sweet potato, then fruit). The protein promotes physical activity, the carbohydrate ensures a good night's sleep.

On Monday you fast or eat as little as possible. Food should be low in carbohydrates and may include light soups, salads and fruits. The purpose of this is to deplete liver glycogen stores as occurs during sleep (fasting).

On Tuesday, the day before take-off, you repeat the high protein, high carbohydrate diet. On all three days drink tea, coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages only between 1500 and 1700hrs when their effect on the body is minimal regardless of your caffeine metabolism.

On the day of the flight (Wednesday) you fast again. If you are travelling westwards drink caffeinated beverages only in the morning (0700 - 1200hrs); if eastward-bound drink them only between 1800 and 2300hrs.

When on board you must sleep until the pre-determined breakfast-time at your destination and no longer. Then get-up and have a high protein breakfast. Since it is hard to know when and what the airline will serve, it's advisable to pack a breakfast (e.g. tinned fish, tinned meat, boiled egg, nuts and seeds). After breakfast stay awake, do not fall asleep because if you do you will fall back into your old time schedule. Thereafter, continue to eat according to the mealtimes at your destination.

Dan Baum, of the Wall Street Journal's Singapore bureau has tried this method with great success. The "jet-lag diet" provides a practical means of testing the influence of foods on sleep rhythms and it may also help shift workers to overcome adjustment of their new routines.


  • Take melatonin 3mg and a stronger hypnotic at the bedtime of your destination. See Sleep is vital for good health - especially in CFS.
  • Continue to take them at bed time until you are fully acclimatised.
  • If you wake early, take another hypnotic to ensure a full night's sleep.


Related Tests

Related Articles


  • Porter JM and Horne JA. Bedtime food supplements and sleep: Effects of different carbohydrate levels. Electroenceph and Clin Neurophys 51, 426-433 (1981).
  • Phillips F, Crips AH, McGuiness B, et al. Isocaloric diet changes and electroencephographic sleep. Lancet 2 723 (1975).
  • Crim MC, Munro HN. Protein. Present knowledge in Nutrition. Nutrition Foundation pp 131-146 (1984).
  • Adam K. Brain rhythm and correlates with obesity. Brit Med J3, 234 (1977).
  • A family response to the drug problem, DHEW publication No. 76-360 (A), 1976.
  • Levy M, Zylber-Katz. Caffeine metabolism and coffee-attributed sleep disturbances. Clin Pharmacol Ther 33, 770 (1983).

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