Has science found a new way to beat jet lag?
A new study adds to a growing body of evidence that what you eat may affect your internal circadian rhythms -- the built-in "biological clock" that determines when you feel sleepy and when you're wide awake.
Ordinarily, the human biological clock is in sync with a standard 24-hour day. Traveling across time zones can throw it out of whack -- as legions of jet-lagged travelers know all too well. Now scientists in Japan say their research suggests that eating the right foods at the right time can help your biological clock get back on track faster.
For their study, the researchers switched a group of 16 mice from a nighttime feeding schedule to a daytime feeding schedule. Mice typically feed at night, so the daytime feeding disrupted their biological clocks.
Half of the mice were injected with a compound called S961, which blocks the activity of insulin. The other mice didn't get the injection.
What happened? The mice that got the injection took longer to adjust to the daytime feeding schedule -- which suggests that keeping insulin levels high at the right time might make it easier to transition from one sleep and feeding schedule to another.
Other studies have shown that when you eat and what you eat affect your biological clock. But this new study reveals that insulin is what seems to help your stomach synchronize with mealtimes -- which, in turn, helps reset your biological clock.
“This is just saying that we are looking at food as a strong regulator of circadian rhythm and [if we understand] exactly how it works … we can take advantage of this,” Dr. Christopher Winter, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based sleep medicine expert who wasn't involved in the study, told the Today Show. “I think there is definitely a relationship… food regulates sleep.”
This doesn't mean it's a good idea to take high doses of insulin next time you’re worried about jet lag -- and some scientists have even suggested flat-out fasting to cope with jet lag. But one of the new study's authors maintains that it might be possible for humans to reset their biological clocks by making careful food choices before and after long-distance air travel.
Typically, "protein-rich foods are better at breakfast and carb-rich foods at dinner," Dr. Makoto Akashi, a biology professor at Yamaguchi University in Japan, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Given that insulin secretion is strongly induced by carbohydrates, you may be helped by carb-rich foods at dinner when you go eastward from your country. When you go westward, they may be at breakfast. However, further studies need to be done."
In other words: carb-rich foods (such as spaghetti, whole grain bread, or oatmeal) may help adjust your biological clock when you travel.
The new study was published online in the journal Cell Reports on July 10, 2014.