Updated: Sep 29, 2019
(Podcast #3 Transcript)
Todays episode is a travel health special which I decided to create as its a timely topic and I’ve recently travelled long haul to move from London UK to Bali Indonesia, which was a 7 hour flight to Dubai, an 8 hour wait through night and then a 9 hour flight to Bali. It was pretty brutal, BUT I managed to travel feeling well, completely avoided getting sick, and I minimised jetlag symptoms!
Furthermore I was sat next to a frequent long haul flyer on the plane who explained to me how much he suffered with health and jet lag when flying and he said I wish there was a guide on how to deal with all this stuff”. Well, here it is…..
I’ve done a lot of research and learnt much through personal experience of flying regularly over the years. I've worked to make this a highly comprehensive holistic guide which is both educational and practical, and I’m excited to share it with you.
Whether you’re a travelling nomad, fly frequently for work or are going on a long haul flight for holiday I really hope you’ll get a lot of value from this episode.
We will be focusing on 3 key things
1. Minimising the symptoms of jetlag.
2. Maintaining gastro-intestinal health (avoiding the common yet uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms of constipation, flatulance, pain and bloating).
3. Avoiding illness in general (both from the cabin and when you’re at your destination).
I’m going to cover a journey from start to end - from pre flight to staying well when actually flying, and then post flight.
I’ll explain what happens to our bodies during air travel and share practical solutions in the form of tactics and products that can be used to mitigate any negative effects. For any products or resources that I mention I’ll add details into show notes so you can explore further if you want to.
Ok. Flying in planes. This has got to be one of the most epic things ever to have been invented and I’m super grateful for it. But as amazing as it is to be able to jet around the world, the reality is that flying really messes with our bodies. It’s simply not human. It's not natural for us to be in a pressurised cabin, being blasted with air con, 30 thousand feet above ground travelling across several time zones at a speed of 500 miles per hour.
Sometimes it can be a stressful and tiring experience where we just end up not feeling our best.
Not only is feeling crappy an unpleasant experience in itself it can really effect how you experience your time at your destination and how you perform. And you want to be alert with a clear head, focus, and energy - especially if you are working, or attending an event.
Before we get into looking at the journey and the practical stuff, I'd just like to share a bit about Jet lag. Anyone who’s experienced it knows how it feels, but let’s just take a closer look at what it is and how it happens…
Jet lag is essentially a disturbance that occurs in the body’s circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Its basically a 24-hour internal clock that’s running in the background of your brain which moves between sleepiness and alertness.
Our Circadian rhythms are actually “built-into our bodies" and are internally self-regulated, however they are trained by our usual environment, and the biggest factor of this is the light-dark cycle of night and day. Everyone has a different circadian rhythm eg we hear of morning types or night owls. The key is maintaining your usual type/cycle.If you're passing through different time zones when you’re flying, it can really mess with this natural clock.
When we have jet lag we might experience a variety of symptoms such as feeling tired or drowsy, irritable, with mental fog, trouble focusing, feeling disorientated, having issues with sleeping, a disturbed appetite or digestive issues, and a weakened immune system.
Long distance travel is tiring both physically and mentally. We can easily find ourselves too tired to properly enjoy the time once we arrive at our destination.
Matthew Walker is the author of a book called why we sleep. It's an amazing and somewhat frightening book, but if you really want to go deep on understanding sleep it's the only book I think you need to know everything about it. He says we can't completely “avoid” jet lag, but we can manage/minimise the symptoms of it and offers some tips on this which I’ve incorporated into this episode.
So lets go on a virtual trip …
Before you travel. Theres five things which I do to get off to a positive start before I travel
1. The first thing is recommended by Matthew Walker which is 6 or 7 days before you fly, scaling back your sleep timing, so you begin to acclimatise your body to the time zone shifts by incrementally scaling back when you wake up in the morning so you can move closer and closer to the natural “wakefulness” time at your destination. For example, if you live in LA and are traveling to London, try waking up ten minutes earlier each day. So if you normally wake at 7:30, try getting up at 7:20, then 7:10 the next day, and so on. So in the week leading up to the flight, you’ve already adjusted for around an hour of the time difference. I recognise this isn’t necessarily practical, particularly if you are long haul flying very regularly but great if you can do it. And note that it’s easier for your body to adjust to traveling west, since you’re lengthening your day, rather than traveling east and shortening your day. Thats pretty brutal.
2) My second thing is to be prepared & organised and living myself plenty of time. This minimises emotional stress. It’s so worth it. I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation where we are late and at the airpot and everything has gone wrong and we’ve forgotten things and we’re disorganised. Just invest the time upfront. It's so worth it.
3) Thirdly, rest as much as possible the couple of days before. If you get on the flight well rested you really do have a head start. I also do something called ZIVA meditation. I do it daily 15 min first thing in morning and before my evening meal. It’s my number 1 daily health habit. Its basically meditation for the real world and for high performance and it has so many benefits for physical and mental health, and our performance in life. One of the benefits is it gives your body deep rest at a cellular level.
In London I recently did live training with Emily Fletcher, the creator of the Ziva technique and she explained to me that it can minimise symptoms of Jet lag by up to 80% . She recommended I do an extra 15 min session every 4 hours of travel. I tried this and I’m convinced it had a significant effect. You can learn the actually learnt the technique online and once you know how to do it you can do it any where, any time without having to be in a quiet environment or rely on any guidance. I’ll add my link in the show notes so you can check out the online programme if you are interested to find out more.
4) The fourth thing is to avoid eating just before flying. I actually fast before and during flying, and just drink still water. I’ll explain why and all the benefits of this shortly.
5) The fifth thing is to strengthen your immune system. Now this is actually a long term lifestyle thing and a big topic so I’ll cover more in a future episode. However as part of this and to boost resilience I take a daily supplement I’ve found to be super effective called Host Defence which is a powerful complex of mushrooms for immune support. I found out about it from Tim Ferris on his podcast the Tim Ferris Show and he swears by it, and since I've been taking it I literally dont get sick.
Ok so now you’re on the plane, let's look at the flight itself
The cabin provides truly dreadful conditions for the body. There's the air pressure, a lack of natural light which is replaced by hideous blue artificial light, then there's the hideous food and drink, the air conditioning and the sitting for long periods of time.
I’m going to share with you my 10 in flight tactics plus a few of my must have products to mitigate the effects of these conditions.
Now, the dry air can feel really uncomfortable as it dries your eyes, nose and throat. The humidity in normal air keeps our airways moist, allowing the lining to trap germs that enter the body. But in drier air, those mucous membranes don’t function well so it also help germs to invade your system. Also you could be sitting next to any number of people who are ill, even if they don't quite yet know it yet and the air that they're breathing is recirculated and breathed in by you.
Tactic 1 is unless it feels like an oven, close the overhead air vent to keep the dry air from blasting directly on your skin and sucking up even more moisture.
Tactic 2 is to stay hydrated and drink plenty of still water. If possible take a couple of your own bottles on board because its such a pain to keep asking for water. Also avoid alcohol and caffeine as they will challenge your already-stressed biorhythms and dehydrate you further.
A product I love is XClear spray for the nose. It keeps the nasal canal moist which counters the effect of the air con and helps to trap germs PLUS it contains xylitol which is typically known for being a natural sweetener, however it also acts is a biofilm disruptor. What is this I hear you cry! Well, biofilms are formations which occur when a group of micro-organisms such as bacteria, parasites or viruses attach themselves to a surface and create a colony. These biofilms form themselves into a kind of ‘shield’ that has a glue-like consistency, often referred to as ‘slime’. Nice! The biofilm then acts as a barrier which helps the colony to defend itself against any antimicrobial treatments and against our immune cells. Xylitol helps to disrupt (break down) these barriers so we are better able to fight any germs that do get into us.
I also use another product called Biocidin spray which is totally natural and very powerful. I use once on flight as precautionary measure (just a couple of sprays in the back of the throat) and then at any time in life when I feel the hint of a sore throat coming on.
Tactic 3 is protect your eyes. You can use glasses, and eye mask or just close your eyes as you listen to podcasts such as this one, or audiobooks or music.
Tactic 4 is a game changer for me. It's Fasting. This has made SUCH a difference for me. I don’t eat for a few hours before the flight or during the flight. Now be aware this can attract a lot of staring and baffled looks. I drinking still water only (and plenty of it). The fasting has 3 major benefits:
- According to a study from Harvard Medical School a 24 hour fast helps to reset your sleep-wake cycle and can make a big difference to jet lag.
- Fasting also helps our cells detox. This is especially helpful during flying where there’s more disruption and toxicity occurring in the body.
- The biggest benefit for me is that it minimises microbiome disruption and helps to prevent gastrointestinal problems. In cabin conditions our gut Microbiome (the collection of organisms in our gut) gets distressed. When our microbiome gets distressed it releases toxins into the body which contributes to us feeling crap. This is made worse by the lack of rest/sleep which we need to help our brain detox. Any kind of change in routine can also trigger constipation, and the pressure, dehydration and sitting still for hours and hours only makes it worse. Flatulence increases significantly in the air thanks simply to physics. The cabin pressure drops as the flight climbs, which leads to trapped gas within our bodies expanding accordingly. This is painful and inconvenient and unless you have an isle seat it means keep having to disturb people and climb over them (now this is a particularly precarious move when you are desperately trying to hold in gas. Trust me, I've been there). I used to suffer terribly with all this and since i started fasting before and during flights I barely suffer at all.
Also can I just say that airplane food is revolting. Even in biz. It also tends to be full of sugar which is inflammatory to the body and not great at the best of times but certainly not when flying, and salt which dehydrates us further. It’s literally the worst combination. I really wish airlines would wise up to this.
The air pressure in the aircraft cabin also causes your blood to absorb less oxygen which can contribute to sleepiness, headaches and a lack of mental sharpness.
This leads me to Tactic 5: undertake regular deep breathing exercises and do so sitting tall in your seat to allow oxygen to flow easily through your body. This will also help your body to detoxify.
Tactic 6 is to move regularly. Stretch, walk about. get that lymph moving and help your body detox further.
Tactic 7 is the ZIVA meditation technique that I mentioned earlier as I said this has made such a difference to me in my life in general but also its worked for me and others that i know for minimising jetlag. Doing just one extra 15 min session for every 4 hours of travel.
In his book Headstrong, Dave Asprey talks about how jet lag is not just circadian disruption but it’s also about mitochondrial dysfunction from flying. What the hell am I talking about? Well Mitchondria are power plants in your cells which convert food and air into energy. So when these are not working properly of course it effects our energy. I’ll do a separate episode all abut mitochondria, and in general we do want to build a lifetysle that supports our mitochondrial health. However for flying theres a supplement i like to take called Unfair Advantage by Bulletproof which supports mitochonidrial function. It helps to energise us (without caffeine) so I like to take it on or within a few hours of waking.
Ok Lets talk about how to optimise Sleep which leads us on to:
Tactic 8: Mathew Walker the sleep expert i mentioned earlier states its essential we try and get at least 12 hours of solid wakefulness before going to bed in our arrival time zone. It might be a tough first day but you’ll adjust faster to your new time zone and be so much more productive on your trip. Try to stick your normal schedule on the new local time. So if you usually go to sleep at say 11:00 p.m., try to stay up until 11:00 p.m. on your new time.
Onboard there is a lack of natural light. This is a big problem because natural light is the major factor in regulating our circadian rhythm. Also there is plenty of artificial blue light which is a problem before sleep. Our bodies are not designed for this. When we were cave men and women the only light we had after sunset was fire. The absence of blue light actually signals our human brain to produce melatonin which makes us become sleepy. Blue light (preferably through daylight) is good in the morning because it tells your body to wake up, but its the worst thing to have in your eyes in the few hours before sleep because its telling the body it’s time to wake up.
So Tactic 9 is to avoid the blue light a few hours before sleep. Assuming the cabin lights are on, the most effective ways to do this is are to wear blue light blocking glasses, to wear an eye mask, and to wear long sleeves and bottoms because our skin actually absorbs blue light. I find its usually cold on a plane i find anyway so even if its lightweight stuff tty and keep skin covered.
For your phone and laptop screen you can also get blue light blocking filters such as FLUX
Other Products I use to help me sleep when Im flying are
- A magnesium supplement which I take about an hour before bed. Its get for calming nervous system, reducing anxiety, aiding sleep and a whole host of other benefits.
- Silicon ear plugs, to help block out the noise
- Essential oils can also be helpful. I love using lavender to help me get to sleep. Or you can also buy rollerball blends specifically for sleep, and likewise for waking us up and giving us energy. Use reputable brand that have quality oils such as Doterra for example
Tactic 10 is avoid drinking anything at least 1 hour before you’re trying to go to sleep, oh and go to the bathroom before you do, because it's tricky enough sleeping on planes, don’t wake yourself up unnecessarily for a bathroom trip.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination there’s a few things you can do to minimise the jet lag and stay well.
1. “Grounding” yourself (also known as earthing) This helps to reset your body clock after flying. Flying disrupts the electrical charge in our body’s water cells, and that contributes to symptoms of jet lag. “When you go up in an aeroplane, you build up a static charge in your body that slows the mitochondrial function. In other words, the battery in your body doesn’t hold a charge as well because you were disconnected from the earth.” Reconnecting with the earth can reduce the feeling of jet lag by allowing you to soak up the earth’s negative charge. So at the earliest opportunity get your bare feet on earth, or sand and spend a good few minutes doing this
You can also use a grounding mat if you can’t find any patches of earth. Im thinking more of the frequent flyers here, and so for you it may be worth looking into
2. The next tip comes courtesy of Mathew Walker: He says that taking a micro-dose of Melatonin before bed time in your new time zone might help you fall asleep without affecting your sleep quality. He says Melatonin is not a traditional sleep aid like Ambien (which he does not recommend). he explains that melatonin is like the starting official of the 100 meter dash. It organizes the participants, but doesn’t participate in the race itself. That’s why Melatonin doesn’t affect sleep quality. It just controls the timing of when sleep occurs by tricking the body to think it’s time for sleep. Ive tried this and to be honest it made me feel really weird, but i know others who it really works for so it might be something worth experimenting with if you are a regular long haul flyer or find that you are still having difficulty even after using all the other products and tactics.
3. Another tip from Matthew is On full Day 1 and Day 2 of arrival expose yourself to at least 30 minutes of morning sunshine without sunglasses. In the afternoon, even on a cloudy day, always wear your sunglasses before heading out. I’ll add to this and say In the evening wear blue blocker glasses especially the couple of hours before bed. This will help signal to your body that it's starting to get close to bedtime. Blue light blocking devices on phones and laptop such as FLUX I mentioned can also be used, and you can dim the lights or just use a lamp. You really want to do everything you can to minimise that blue light in the evening, which is everywhere. Even with the blue blocking I try and avoid screens at least an hour before bed simply to avoid brain stimulation.
4. A device called the Human Charger. This channels bright light directly to the light-sensitive regions of the brain, where it is needed the most, via earbuds. The makers claim that in addition to reducing the effects of jet lag it can be used at other times to increase energy levels, improve mood, increase mental alertness, and keep the winter blues at bay. It comes with an app which you can set to where you are travelling to and it comes with an app and tells you when to use the devise so you don’t need to work it out. Ive used this a couple of times into past to Travel to LA for example and Im not sure I noticed a major difference although I know many others who swear by it.
5. Another tactic is to optimise your hotel room (or airbnb or whenever are staying) - theres 3 things I like to do immediately - hunt out and remove any nasty air fresheners. If these are in the room you want to unplug them or remove them and get rid of them because they are not good for us. Another thing is to cover any LEDs or unplug any devices where theres LED light because this can really interfere with your sleep you want to get room as dark as you possibly can. Ideally you’d have black out curtains or blinds, and that’s a criteria you could search by when you’re looking for somewhere to stay. But if not use an eye mark. try and block out as much light as you can and you’ll have a much better quality of sleep
6. In order to stay healthy at your destination theres a few things I like to do and take
I have some amazing Parasite defence capsules which add a ill link to. I just take a preventative dose of one capsule a day. For me it helps to prevent parasites taking hold in my system. And actually having a strong immune system is the most important thing because that’s going to prevent your body form allowing parasites to take hold.
Also activated coconut charcoal capsules. These are brilliant to take whenever you eat something suspect, drink alcohol or feel unwell eg upset tummy or some brain fog. The charcoal acts to attract toxins, bind to them and extract them from the bodyI continue to take magnesium which I do every day an hour before bed
Also essential oils - this is a whole topic in itself but my essentials for travel are tea tree oil for its antibacterial antimicrobial and anti everything qualities and lavender which is good for sleep and using on bites. You can also get different blends for energy.
Some final things: Hydration, hydration hydration. Every day. Its imperative.Breathing, making sure im taking time to take deep long breaths and oxygenate my body. And daily meditation.
Ok that’s it, the most comprehensive guide to flight and long haul travel health that I’ve been able to create, and I hope that by using these tips and finding what works best for you, you’ll be able to make a difference to how you feel and perform.
If you found this helpful I will be super grateful if you will take just 1 minute to leave a rating and feedback. which will make it visible to more people, and then the more people we can help.
I’d also love to connect with you, hear your feedback, what things are holding you back, and any questions you have or topics you’d like me to cover in future. This will help me to evolve this into something of radical value.
You can connect with my via my website www.laurajanebolton.com my facebook page, or instagram. Ill add all relevant links into the show notes.
Thank you for listening and have a vibrant day