Topics Covered In This Episode:
- Factors affecting jet lag and travel fatigue
- Minimizing sleep disruption during international air travel
- Best transatlantic flight choices for athletes
- Dealing with jet lag
- Time required to acclimate to eastward or westward travel
- How to get circadian rhythm back on track once you’ve arrived
Corrine Malcolm has been a CTS Coach for more than 5 years and holds a B.S. in Health and Human Performance. She’s a professional ultrarunner, a top ten Western States finisher, and a former U.S. Biathlon National Team member.
Book Recommendation: Why We Sleep, by Dr. Matthew Walker, PhD
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Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.
Corrine Malcolm (00:02):
Hi, I am coach Corrine Malcolm, and we are trying something a little different this week. I am off in Europe. And so we’re gonna kinda do some how-tos over the next couple episodes, some ask me anything. So if you got a question don’t hesitate to reach out, I would love to answer them on an up cupping episode. I’m recording from a different location than my normal office after a whirlwind week in Chamonix for the queen race of them, all the UT M B I’m now in Gustine, Austria for a few weeks of running with my team. If you follow the sported trail running and you follow your idols, you probably have noticed online that they have been migrating over to Chamonix or somewhere in Europe for about the last month or so leading into these big races. And while that might be beneficial to some of these athletes, it’s not always practical, right?
Corrine Malcolm (00:54):
How many vacation days can you actually take to make this happen? On the other hand, I was competing in TDS at UT M B and it started at midnight. So I arrived a lot closer to race day because while adjusting to a big time, Jo, a big time zone change rather seemed a little bit more irrelevant to me. Although I will say I have had that backfire in the past. And it’s something to consider when you’re traveling internationally to a race. One time I was headed to a race in India and I was super, super concerned about getting a waterborne or foodborne illness right before the race. And so my plan was to go in super, super last minute to avoid getting sick. And instead I had jet lag related Thermo regulation issues that left me hallucinating on the trail in the midst of a hundred K. So there’s a upside and a downside to just about everything. And that’s what we’re gonna dive into today. I want you to think about what you should consider if your goal race involves hopping across the pond, and we’re gonna try to, you know, get to the bottom of it here and we’ll see how it goes.
Corrine Malcolm (01:59):
So before we dive into jet lag, which I think is the biggest concern, we have to tackle general travel fatigue because they are slightly different travel fatigue happens with any mode of transit that could be plane, but it also could be by car or bus or train travel as well. And this is gonna start during the trip itself and then immediately after travel. But once again, it’s gonna be pretty short term. And this starts with short term fatigue, as well as headaches, bloating, often gastrointestinal distress, and then swelling, you know, when your feet and ankles get really puffy, sometimes that involves knee pain as well. These headaches and bloating in GI distress happen happen often during air travel because you’re kind of trapped in this low humidity environment. Obviously we love that planes have filters, right? It keeps us otherwise healthy during air travel, but it has some down downstream consequences. And then you’re also exposed to mild hypoxia in that environment.
Corrine Malcolm (02:58):
When you combine that with cramped conditions and cabins, you’re also gonna be disrupting your eating habits and your sleeping patterns. And that all kind of adds up over that long day of travel. Go kind of going back to that humidity piece of the puzzle, the humidity on planes is super, super low. We’re talking 15 to 20%, which is literally drying you out. It’s drying out your mucus membranes. So on a long haul flight to Europe, we’re talking 8, 9, 10 hours. You can lose up to two litters of water, just sitting there breathing. So what that means practically is that you have to be really, really on top of your hydration throughout travel and the time of COVID. You wanna be cautious of masking kind of on the board, in the boarding process, as well as, until you’re at a cruising altitude. This is kind of per the most recent recommendations.
Corrine Malcolm (03:48):
And then it’s generally pretty safe to be removing your mask throughout the course of the flight until you start your dissent again and are deboarding the plane. So there’s no excuse to not be on top of your hydration. I know it’s hard to get up and go to the bathroom sometimes when you’re trapped in the middle, but airplanes are really, really drying and you don’t wanna land super, super dehydrated. So you have to stay on top of hydration over the course of your flight, and then both on planes. And again, in cars, buses, trains, et cetera. You’re sitting in a really cramped position and that causes blood to pool at your feet. And it’s because your veins are responsible for moving blood back towards your heart. And they gotta fight against gravity and they operate by one way, valves those one way, valves work best when they have muscle contractions.
Corrine Malcolm (04:32):
And when you’re seated for a long period of time, you’re not contracting your muscles. Therefore the blood pools, it doesn’t wanna fight against gravity. The way you counter that is by getting up and moving about that could be getting up on the plane regularly to go to the bathroom. That can be pit stops during your, during your car car ride, getting out, going to the bathroom, again, going to the bathroom. If your hydrate is always a good excuse to get up and moving. And then you can also wear compression garments, compression garments are gonna aid and moving blood, you know, upwards towards your heart. Again, from your extremities fighting against gravity. You might notice to you like if you were, if you were wearing a ring, for example, that your fingers can get puffy too. Cuz once again, you’re not contracting your muscles a whole lot when you’re seated in these positions and blood’s gonna pool at your extremities, the next piece of the puzzle, as you have to protect your sleep in these environments.
Corrine Malcolm (05:21):
And so when I’m traveling internationally, I’m gonna consider a sleep kit. That means, you know, the, the nerdy eye mask, the ear plugs or noise canceling headphones. And then I’m gonna try to limit my screen time, which I know personally is super, super challenging. When you have the allure of so many movies to watch on these flights. When I catch long haul flight to Europe, while I’m not strictly vegetarian, I oftentimes opt for the vegetarian option as a food preference when I’m booking the flight. This is because if you choose this option, you get fed first on the plane. And that means that I can eat my meal right away, finish watching that movie that I’ve selected and quickly Dawn my eye mask and fall asleep fairly quickly. Also when I was booking this last bit of travel to Europe, I made sure that when I was flying from the west coast to the us Seattle, I was booking a ticket that brought me directly to Europe and didn’t have a stopover on the east coast.
Corrine Malcolm (06:11):
What this does is it makes my flight from the states to Europe, about 10 hours long as opposed to breaking it up into two shorter flights. I also opt for an evening flight because that means I’m going to eat my dinner and go to bed more naturally, as opposed again, to like being in the middle of the day, having a hard time going through that, going through those motions and getting that sleep cycle started. So I opt for an evening flight. I opt for a vegetarian meal and I opt for no stopovers on the east coast if I can avoid it so that I make it all the way to Europe in one big push. And then I’ll have a shorter flight generally from whatever that European hub is over to. My final destination. And this time I went through Amsterdam and eventually ended up in Geneva.
Corrine Malcolm (06:50):
It was super, super smooth. And my 10 hour flight meant I got several hours of actually some decent sleep on the plane. So again, I ask ear plugs or noise, canceling headphones, getting some sleep on the plane, avoiding screen time, if you can, and then we’re gonna talk more about, you know, you’ve now landed in Europe, okay? And this is where jet lag comes into effect. You know, that that travel fatigue is gonna dissipate fairly quickly. But then jet lag is really what sets in. And it’s very, very similar to travel fatigue, but it’s much more prolonged. You’ve likely experienced this, right? This is gonna be daytime fatigue and inability to concentrate well, sleep disruption, right? You’re either having a problem going to sleep or you’re having a hard time staying asleep. You’re gonna have GI disturbances and all these things can significantly significantly rather impair sports performance, right?
Corrine Malcolm (07:44):
And all these things again are also associated with the desynchronization or kind of a mismatch with your circadian rhythm, essentially as your time traveling, your body’s gonna like to stay on a schedule. And now that has been dramatically disrupted. And we’re gonna talk about how we fix that in a second. Again, there’s no quick fix because let’s talk about why this is happening, why this disruption, this desynchronization is happening. Your body operates around your circadian rhythm. And this is generally run by a timed set of hormonal fluctuations, namely your cortisol and melatonin cycle, and is associated with your body temperature too, that change in body temperature throughout the day is associated directly with that circadian rhythm that is all now super, super outta whack. And that affects blood pressure, heart rate, your hunger and appetite, cognitive performance, strength, balance, flexibility, dexterity, subjective, alertness, sleepiness, and fatigue.
Corrine Malcolm (08:37):
And again, this is all tied up in that sleep wake cycle and those hormones and those hormones being outta whack with that travel. Okay. So that’s a big hurdle to get over. It’s also impacted based on if you’re traveling westward or eastward, and it’s generally, this becomes most apparent when you’re moving more than three time zones. Okay? So even if you’re moving from the west coast to the us, to the east coast, to the us, you can start to feel that take take effect cuz you’re jumping those time zones. Generally speaking, when you’re traveling westward, it’s a little bit easier to get on the right time zone than traveling eastward. And this is because your day is shortened. As you skip forward in time zones safely. This means you need about a half day to recover from every time zone that you move west and a full day of recovery for every time zone, you move east generally, right? We’re gonna subtract those through those three initial time zones and then go from there and I’ll do the math fair for you in a second.
Corrine Malcolm (09:38):
And this is gonna hold. This is gonna hold pretty true up until about that 12 hour time zone. Once you get to 12 hours, you’re actually, that’s a pretty good place to be. You don’t actually need much time adjusting. You’re just gonna have a lot of travel generally to get to those locations. So doing the math. Now, if you live on the west coast like Seattle, where I live and you’re heading to Europe, which I just did that’s a nine hour time change and you’re traveling eastward. So if we subtract the first three time zones from that that’s six time zones that I’m now hopping. And so it should take me about six days to fully adjust fully acclimate to that new time zone, fully fix that. Desynchronization in my circadian rhythm. On the other hand, if you’re traveling from Europe to come run Western states in California, again, a subtracting those first three time zones, you should only need about three days to acclimate to that time change again.
Corrine Malcolm (10:31):
You need a full day moving, moving east and about a half day moving west. So something to consider and maybe those days need to be factored in more carefully when it comes to travel. You’re not only dealing with the environmental conditions in that new location, be it altitude or heat, but that time zone thing is a really, really big deal. Okay. So how do we counter that? How do we put our best foot forward on race day? And this is gonna largely revolve around protecting your sleep and how you’re gonna do that as ahead of travel, you need to do everything in your power to minimize sleep depth. I’m, I’m talking about bank and sleep here. I’m talking about, you know, no Allnighters avoid avoiding having to stay up super late, avoiding big fluctuations. And when you go to sleep and when you wake up trying to really have good sleep hygiene, and the next thing you can do is you can actually start to shift your sleep based on the direction of your travel.
Corrine Malcolm (11:26):
And you’re gonna aim for a shift about 30 minutes per day in the week prior to travel the idea being there that you’re slowly kind of nudging your circadian rhythm along to make to, you know, hopefully at least make that change smoother when you get there again, if you can’t protect your sleep and do this, I’d rather you get as much sleep as possible pre-race than opt to the do the shift. But if we’re getting to those nitty gritty percentiles, this is beneficial. And I’ve seen it used pretty successfully at very very high levels like going to the Olympics and having to travel to China or Japan. For example, once you’re on the ground though, then you’re want, you’re gonna wanna utilize all the tools you have available to get your circadian rhythm in line with the new, with your new location. And one of the biggest ways to do that is sun exposure.
Corrine Malcolm (12:14):
Getting in sunlight. First thing in the morning on their morning is going to allow you to jump start your circadian rhythm. It’s gonna say, Hey, I’m awake now. Hey, I’m exposed to daylight. You can, you can continue to protect your sleep by doing things like taking naps. But again, you’re gonna wanna limit those naps to no more than 60 minutes because that’s gonna protect your ability, ability to sleep at night. Another factor that you can try is you can actually think about food timing. High protein meals are generally thought to keep you more alert and high carbohydrate meals are generally to promote more drowsiness. So in the morning, getting that protein in right away and in the evening, having a good carbohydrate rich meal is going to help you stay awake in the morning, help fight midday, drowsiness. And then that carbohydrate heavy meal is gonna help you go to sleep.
Corrine Malcolm (13:05):
The last piece of the puzzle you can do is you can try utilizing a melatonin supplement and that’s gonna be about 0.5 to five milligrams. And you’re gonna ingest that two hours before bedtime to aid in following asleep and aid and getting into that more normal sleep cycle. I would experiment with that ahead of travel, just so that you are familiar with it. Doesn’t make you feel drowsy, et cetera, but melatonin, cortisol and their cycle and how they interact with one another is what dictates your circadian rhythm. And so sometimes you need to jump, start it with sunlight in the morning and melatonin two hours ahead of bedtime to really fall into that sleep cycle really, really comfortably. Okay? So that’s all the things that you’re gonna do once you’re on the ground. So what are kind of the key takeaways here again, you need to protect your sleep pre travel.
Corrine Malcolm (13:50):
You need to protect your sleep during travel and you need to protect your sleep. Once you arrive at your destination, sleep is key. Sleep has all sorts of other impacts. Maybe we’ll D deep dive into sleep and it’s in its other health impacts on another episode, but big takeaway protect your sleep at all cost. The next thing you can do is try to adjust your sleep. Pre-Travel once again, not at the cost of eliminating sleep, but if you can go to bed a little bit earlier or staple a little later, based on your direction of travel again, after 30 minutes a day, the week pre-travel, this is a good way to try to jumpstart getting on that new time zone. That’s also gonna shift your meals in that kind of thing. So everything’s kind of working in the right direction. Again, the last piece of this puzzle is synchronizing your circadian rhythm. Once you arrive, utilize light exposure, utilize nutritional timing, utilize melatonin and utilize exercise to kind of move into that most normal pattern as possible. Traveling abroad to, to a race is a huge undertaking. And it often
Corrine Malcolm (14:50):
Means that it’s been a long time dream come true. You’ve put a ton of work into your training. You’ve you’ve been serious about it. You’ve got, you’ve logged the miles and the hours you are ready to race. Do not throw your race day away during travel. Okay. Biggest takeaway there, practice, practice, practice, sleep, sleep, sleep. I really hope you enjoyed this format. I know it is short and sweet. If you have a question that you would like for me to tackle, please shoot me a message. And maybe on one of the outcoming episodes, you will hear me deep dive into your topic of choice. Again, I am coach K Malcolm. Thank you so much for listening this week. We will see you again soon.