How to Sleep Soundly When Switching Time Zones
5 min read
Last Modified 3 March 2021 First Added 18 December 2020
Whether travelling for business or jetting off on 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. This jet lag can affect how you function on your holiday or business trip, as it can have a big impact on alertness during the day and sleep quality at night. Thankfully, there are ways that you can prepare for and combat the side effects of switching time zone.
Your body clock works by telling you when it’s time to sleep and be alert based on its circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm works on a 24-hour cycle and is affected by external stimuli. Your sleeping pattern is regulated by light and high light levels during the day cause you to be alert. Whereas fading light 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 to this change. How bad this is depends on three things:
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 time to adjust to new time zones as you travel. This gradual change will help to reduce 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).
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, and to overcome jet lag. With a bit of preparation and planning, you can ensure you sleep soundly after switching time zones. Here are a few ways you can encourage sleep 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, a few days or weeks before your trip you should gradually change your routine 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 adjust 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 important 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 good sleep. 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.
Related: Ten Ways To Sleep Better At Night
Overall, although having difficulty sleeping after crossing time zones is a likely scenario, there are ways you can help yourself to sleep better. If you really struggle you could try some melatonin supplements to help you get tired at the correct time.
What do you do to combat jet lag? Let us know in the comments below!