New research shows that when you eat may be the key to adjusting to a new time zone.

By Julia Malacoff
October 10, 2016

With symptoms including fatigue, disturbed sleep, stomach problems, and difficulty concentrating, jet lag is probably the biggest downside to traveling. And when you think about the best way to adjust to a new time zone, your mind probably goes to your sleep schedule first. If you can get that on track by going to bed and waking up at the right time, everything else will just fall into place, right? Well according to a new study published in Psychology & Health, there's another, possibly more efficient way to get your body to adapt and combat jet lag. New research has discovered that when you eat your meals plays a pretty important role in setting your body's clock.

In the study, researchers enlisted a group of 60 long-haul flight attendants (people who are crossing time zones on the reg) to test out their theories. There's been some previous research establishing that when you eat has an effect on your circadian rhythm (aka your body's internal clock that tells you when to wake up, go to sleep, etc.). So the study authors started out with the theory that if these flight attendants stuck to a regular, evenly spaced meal timing plan the day before their time zone transition and for the two days after, their jet lag would be reduced. The flight attendants were split into two groups: one that adhered to this three-day eating plan of eating regularly timed meals, and one that ate however they wanted. (FYI, here's how coffee at night screws up your circadian rhythm.)

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the group that used the regular-meals eating plan were more alert and less jet-lagged after their time zone transitions. So, it appears that their theory was correct! "Many crew tend to rely on sleep rather than eating strategies to alleviate symptoms of jet lag, but this study has shown the crucial role meal times can indeed play in resetting the body clock," as Cristina Ruscitto, Ph.D., from the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey, one of the study authors, and a former flight attendant, noted in a press release.

If jet lag is something you struggle with, this strategy is really easy to implement. It's not so much about the specific times you eat your meals, but more that they're evenly spaced out over the course of the day. For example, if you have an early morning flight, eat your breakfast when it gets light out (pack and eat on the plane, if necessary!), and then make sure you eat lunch four to five hours later and then dinner another four to five hours later. The day after you travel, eat your meals again normally spaced throughout the day starting with breakfast soon after it's light out, even if you're feeling tired. The study's findings suggest that the regularity of the meals is what has an effect, not specifically adhering to any particular timing scheme that matches up to your time zone. Unsurprisingly, it looks like food is the answer to yet another of life's problems. (If you've got a big a.m. trip coming up, check out these breakfast recipes you can make in five minutes.)