Firstly, if you are venturing off to another time zone for your summer vacation, CONGRATULATIONS! You are about to discover a lot about others and a lot more about yourself. The cost of traveling somewhere amazing can be long fight times, hours of waiting around airport buildings and the need to adjust your biological clock. This should not deter you. This blog is dedicated to helping you sleep better wherever your adventures takes you.
The physiological processes described in previous blogs such as Sleep - The Chemical Cascade and Melatonin & Entrainment, describe how sleep is determined by the interaction of certain hormones, hormones that are regulated by the body's internal clock. This clock is programmed according to the amount of light and darkness in the immediate environment. Light triggers a reduction in melatonin levels which causes you to start waking; where as a dip in light triggers the secretion of melatonin causing you to feel drowsy and ready for bed.
Send jetlag packing using the natural light available in your new time zone to help re-set your biological clock. Here's how...
- Sleep as much as possible on the plane or while waiting at the airport to prevent acquiring a sleep debt before you land. See Sleeping in strange spaces for more details. This is especially important if you will be flying while it is night time at your destination.
- Reset your watch to local time once you are seated on the plane so you can start adjusting your behaviour from the get go. You will need to make your space as dark as possible to allow melatonin production so turn off as much lighting as possible or use the eye mask provided to create your own darkness. This may mean skipping a meal or the inflight entertainment - boo hoo! As your new 'daytime' approaches, however, increase the amount of light around you. Give your body some clues that it is time to wake up - open the shutters, turn on the lights, walk around and eat something resembling breakfast.
- Please note, however, that it is better to 'stock' up on sleep whilst flying then arrive at your destination with a sleep debt and collapse for 8 hours due to exhaustion. If you need a short nap to re-charge, make it just that - a short nap. Then do what the locals are doing. By fitting into their rhythm your body will adjust faster and you should be feeling better within 2-3 days.
- If your holiday is only a few days long then you may want to discuss the use of sleeping tablets or melatonin with your doctor. Always trial new medications prior to departure as the last thing you need is to arrive with nasty side-effects.