I'm sure you know that feeling well, where you are so excited to travel across timezones on your destination holiday or to visit family and friends, yet you get to bed that night and cannot sleep. Either that or you're awake at some crazy A.M. hour wide eyed and bushy tailed ready to start the day.
I cross timezone on many occasions each year visiting loved ones and have experienced the dreaded jet-lag too many times, which has led me to research this topic and our biology in more depth. I have put together 5 practical steps that I now implement every time I fly, to ensure I gain a restful quality sleep and have the energy onboard for a fabulous trip. These strategies have improved my ability to switch into a new timezone faster and more efficiently than ever before.
But why do we experience jet-lag when we cross time-zones? Our body has a circadian rhythm which is our sleep-wake cycle or otherwise known as our 'body-clock'. Our circadian rhythm is when our body produces particular hormones at certain times of the day and night to ensure that we feel sleepy, that we stay asleep and that we wake in the morning. For our body to produce these hormones at the right time, we must honour what our body requires for this to happen.
When we cross time-zones, our sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, therefore our body's natural 24 hour circadian rhythm is thrown out of whack. You may be sleepy but your body is confused about what time it is and you may struggle to get to sleep. Your mood can then be affected, you may feel irritable or lethargic, you may experience food cravings (that 3pm coffee and chocolate is looking good right?!) and your body may experience inflammation. Not to mention, when you don't get a quality 7-9 hours sleep each night, you have not had enough time to physically and psychologically repair. Doesn't sound like a good mix 'huh?
So, if you're travelling across timezones (or even if you're not) and hope to optimise a good quality restful sleep, let's get stuck into 5 steps that you can implement before you fly and when you touch down in your new location.
Enjoy exercise &/or a coffee around 6am
As mentioned above, our body naturally produces hormones at certain times of the day. When the sun rises around 6am, our body secretes cortisol, our stress hormone, and this is what wakes us up. This is why exercise is best done first thing in the morning, as exercise produces a cortisol release, therefore we are not disrupting our hormonal health, we are in fact supporting it. Alternatively or additionally, enjoy a coffee around 6am as caffeine also raises cortisol levels and your body will signal that it is time to wake-up! Yes coffee lovers, dive in but don't over-do it as too much caffeine (therefore cortisol) is not a good thing!
Step outside and 'ground' yourself
After your morning coffee or exercise, ensure that you spend some time outside and let the morning sun hit your eyes and your bare feet touch the ground. Even better still, enjoy your coffee and exercise outside in the morning light. When your eyes hit the sun and your bare feet stand firmly on the ground, you are practicing 'grounding' to earth and regulating your circadian rhythm - your body clock.. This type of grounding charges your body with an electrical energy surge from the earth. The sunlight also provides an energy boost and tells your body it is time to start the day. If you can't step into the daylight, turn all the lights on inside and mimic daylight as much as possible.
Try to avoid naps
Midday and mid afternoon can often be challenging when your body naturally feels tired and wants to sleep. Try to stay awake during normal daytime hours and get to bed at an early evening time if possible. The quicker you can start a new 'normal' bedtime routine without naps during the day, the better you will sleep overnight. I know how amazing nanna naps can be but avoid while regulating your sleep cycle.
Limit your exposure to lights at night
At night, dim the lights in the home and ensure you create a space that mimics night time. This includes reducing artificial light from your phone, tv and laptops. These electronics display blue light which your body recognises the same as the sun. Therefore if you're on your phone at 8pm at night and try to sleep soon after, your body's melatonin production (sleep hormone) will be affected and you may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. So, implement a sleep hygiene practice by limiting screens 2 hours before bed, have a warm shower or bath and slowwww down so your body recognises it is soon to be sleep time. You can also download an app called FLUX for your laptop which blocks blue light and will support your hormone production and a good nights sleep.
Meditate before bed
The final piece of advice is one of my favourite things to do, whether travelling or not. Meditation allows your mind and your body to rest, to switch off from the days activities and slow down those racing thoughts. Adopting a night meditation practice prior to travelling can help when travelling to a new timezone, as your body recognises patterns and habits. Meditate for 10 mins just before bed and again you will be well prepped for a good quality sleep, with a quiet mind and a rested body.
Keeping in mind that our body does go through a stressful process by travelling from one timezone to another. It does throw our hormones and our rhythms out, which is out of our control to some degree and therefore our sleep may be hindered slightly regardless of what we practice. However, (and that's a big however) there are many things we can do to assist the regulation of a proper sleep and these 5 tips will be a fantastic help.
Happy travels lovelies and sweat dreams!
Yours in health,