How to Sleep Soundly When Switching Time Zones
6 min read
Last Modified 11 November 2022 First Added 18 December 2020
Whether you’re travelling for business or jetting off on an exciting holiday, switching time zones often results in difficulties with sleep when you arrive at your destination. You know you’re in a new time zone, but unfortunately, your body clock can take a while to catch up.
Jet lag can affect how you function and feel on your travels. It impacts your alertness during the day and your sleep quality at night. Thankfully, there are ways that you can prepare for and combat the side effects of switching time zones.
Your body clock tells you when it’s time to sleep and be alert based on its circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm functions on a 24-hour cycle and is affected by external stimuli. It’s a natural process that forms your sleep schedule. This is because your sleeping pattern is regulated by high light levels during the day causing you to be alert. Whereas, fading light during the night causes the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
When you cross over time zones there’s a dramatic shift in your exposure to light, so it can take some time for your body clock to adjust. How much this affects you will depend on three things:
The number of time zones crossed – The more time zones you cross, the harder it is to get over your jet lag, as it’s more of a sudden change for your body to adjust to. Generally, it takes one day per changed time zone for your circadian rhythm to sync up with the new time zone.
How fast you travel – If you travel via road or train, your body has more time to adjust to new time zones. The gradual change will help to reduce your jet lag. Whereas if you fly to a new time zone the sudden change leaves no time for your circadian rhythm to adjust.
The direction you travel – Travelling westward is easier than travelling eastward. Your body clock can adjust to extra time easier than less time. Think how much harder it is to get up extra early in the morning (eastward travel) compared to how easy it is to stay up a few hours extra (westward travel).
There are other factors to consider as well, such as the change in seasons as you travel across the world. Flying to Australia and back, for instance, can cause your body clock to go into chaos. The change in seasons can affect your sleep patterns. And, as you are travelling from summer to winter, and vice versa, the rapid change in seasons can potentially trigger seasonal depression. Otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this type of depression can cause low mood making it difficult to get out of bed. If you know you suffer from SAD, give yourself a little leeway when travelling to different locations.
Even though jet lag is pretty inevitable when you cross time zones, there are things you can do to try to help you sleep better. With a bit of preparation and planning, you can ensure you sleep soundly. Here are a few ways you can encourage slumber if you cross a time zone or more:
If you know you’re heading to a new time zone, you can give your circadian rhythm a head start. Depending on how many time zones you’re crossing, you should gradually change your routine a few days or weeks before your trip so that it is closer to the new time zone. This starts the transition that your body needs to adjust to the new time, so you won’t have to adapt too much (if at all) by the time you arrive.
Even if you arrive at your destination tired, fight the urge to nap. Instead, you want to stay awake until a suitable bedtime. This helps your body to “reset” into the new time zone. If you really must nap, don’t allow yourself to sleep more than a couple of hours, or you won’t be able to sleep later, making it harder to overcome your jet lag.
As light plays an essential role in managing your body clock, getting outside and exposing yourself to daylight can help to reset your body clock. Sunlight will prohibit the release of melatonin and when it starts to get dark this sleep hormone will begin to be released again. If you go for a walk after sunset this will also help your body to start adjusting.
Related: How To Reset Your Body Clock
As they are stimulants, caffeine and alcohol can make it difficult to sleep. Therefore, you should avoid these when you first reach your destination. At the very least do not consume either of these if you have less than 4 hours to bedtime. Not quite convinced? Check out our post on why alcohol is bad before bed.
This is especially important if you’re flying. Changes in altitude as you fly can cause dehydration, which makes it more difficult for your body clock to adjust. To combat this, drink plenty of water before and during your flight.
Whether you’re in a hotel room or self-catering accommodation, your temporary bedroom won’t be the same as yours at home. Changes in temperature, noise, sleep surface and other external factors can affect your ability to sleep. Bring some home comforts with you, like a pillow or blanket, to ease yourself into a peaceful snooze. Make sure you have some earplugs and a sleep mask, in case your room is in a noisy area or light shines through the curtains. You could also turn on a fan to create some ‘white noise’ to block out other sounds from the hotel.
Unfortunately having difficulty sleeping after crossing time zones sometimes happens. But don’t worry there are many ways that you naturally help yourself sleep better. For more help and advice make sure you read… Ten Ways To Sleep Better At Night.