7 Natural Ways to Survive Holiday Travel December 06, 2016 21:24

Those extra holiday pounds might have more to do with your crazy red-eye flight than your extra serving of turkey.

Holidays are a double whammy when it comes to gaining weight. Not only do many of us overdo it in the calorie department this time of year, but now Israeli researchers have also uncovered another potential cause of holiday-related weight gain: the jet lag you suffer while traveling.

Merry Christmas

So how exactly are a growing belly and your red-eye flight to visit your aunt across the country connected?

You know how jet lag prompts your body to feel like it's 6 a.m. even when the clock says it's noon? That travel-related clock chaos is throwing off your gut bacteria, too. And that impacts a lot, considering researchers are now calling the gut the "second brain" because it regulates everything from mood to weight and weight-related issues.

Christmas Balls

According to the researchers, disrupting your natural circadian clock (through both changing light-dark cues and altered eating habits) also changes the rhythms and compositions of your gut bacteria.

The researchers first tested their theory on mice and found that disrupting the mice's microbiomes by inducing jet lag led to weight gain and diabetes-like metabolic issues in the animals. These findings were echoed in a case study of two jet-lagged humans making the trek from the U.S. to Isreal. The researchers found that the humans' gut microbiome had shifted to favor the growth of bacteria that have previously been associated with weight gain.

"These findings provide an explanation for a long-standing and mysterious observation that people with chronically disturbed day-night cycles due to repetitive jet lag or shift work have a tendency to develop obesity and other metabolic complications," says Eran Elinav, MD, researcher with the Weizmann Institute of Science. 

Christmas Balls

Limit the alcohol

Maybe enjoy the big Thanksgiving game without a beer (or with fewer beers) this year. "It might make you drowsy," says Dr. Moyad, "but alcohol reduces deep and refreshing sleep and even REM (dream) stage." He also points out that drinking can lead to fragmented sleep (even if you don't notice it) and more disruptions due to nighttime bathroom breaks.

Ease up on caffeine in the evening

"Caffeine stays in the body (in large amounts) for about five to six hours," explains Dr. Moyad. "So if you're reaching for a java jolt between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. or later, you may still be feeling the effects at midnight."

Keep cool

A cool temperature is one of the body's triggers for sleep, explains Dr. Moyad. Fortunately for you, it's winter so all you have to do is crack a window and let the sleep breeze in.

Unplug

Calming down your brain with acupressure or meditation can help with turning off a restless brain.  And be sure to turn off your phone several hours before bedtime, since the light from electronics can mess with your sleep cycle.