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Gut Microbes and Gut Lag: Looking After Your Gut Microbiome During Travel

We’ve all felt the effects of jet lag - waking up and falling asleep at the wrong times and feeling drowsy and disorientated. Why does it happen, we asked Gastroenterology Dietitian Dr Sammie Gill to explain?

Well, it’s all down to that sudden shift in your body clock when you travel across two or more time zones. But did you know your gut microbes feel the effects too? I.e., gut lag?

This is because your gut microbes sync with your body clock, so sudden shifts in your normal sleep-wake cycle can result in compositional and functional shifts in the microbiome landscape too. Remember, your microbes are sensitive to change (including travel).

In reality, unless you’re a frequent flyer, travelling for your summer hols is unlikely to have any detrimental effects on your gut microbes – they tend to bounce back to their original state after a couple of weeks. Plus, visiting new places will expose you to new environments and new microbes.

Nonetheless, there are things you can do to keep your microbes happy during travel and help them adapt to their new wake-sleep cycle…

1. Be prepared
Bring earplugs, an eye mask and a travel pillow to help maximise comfort and encourage sleep even if your body doesn’t want to. Try relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing.

2. ‘Reset’ your body clock
Set your watch to the new time before you travel and try to eat and sleep according to the new local time. For example, if it’s night-time at your destination, try and sleep on the plane. If it’s daytime at your destination, try and stay awake. If you’re struggling, opt for a power nap and set an alarm. Get outside in natural light to help your body clock (and gut microbes) adjust.

3. Get plenty of sleep
Especially in the few days before you travel and start your journey well rested!

4. Limit caffeine and alcohol
If possible, limit caffeine and alcohol during travel to minimise disruptions in sleep.

5. Keep on track
Trial an app such as Entrain or Timeshifter to help keep you on track.

Visit our #ItTakesGuts holiday hub for more tips and tricks around holidaying with gut issues.

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