Don’t Let Your Trip Upset Your Healthy Sleep Cycle

by Coralee Van Egmond, DC, FICA

A long trip across multiple time zones can impact our health on many levels, but it will hit us the hardest in the ability to get a healthy night’s sleep.  Travel across even one or two time zones holds the potential of significantly disrupting our normal healthy sleep patterns. Normal, natural sleep patterns are governed by our biological clock, a complex timepiece synchronized to our internal rhythms. This normal experience of night, day, work, play and sleep is known as our circadian rhythm.   It is influenced by environmental signals such as patterns of light and darkness, and further reinforced by our regular program of daily living including work and school schedules, meal times, and when we are accustomed to slow the pace for relaxation and recreational pursuits.  Our body clock does not automatically re-set itself to conform to the new rhythms in our new time zone.  It can be broad daylight when we are used to having darkness and vice versa, and it can be lunchtime when we are use to having our morning coffee. 

The stress of this transition can be a real healthy sleep challenge.  Depending on where you have landed, you could be bathed in brilliant sunlight when your body is poised to rest; or cloaked in darkness right when your system is primed to bustle through daily business responsibilities.  It is worth a special effort to provide for a healthy sleep plan before, during and after you travel, because healthy sleep will help you function better if you are travelling for work, and also provide for more energy and endurance if you are travelling for fun.

The sleep-wise traveler probably already knows at least some helpful strategies for dealing with disrupted sleep cycles during travel.  Recent developments in sleep science, however, are emphasizing a growing number of important but simple steps you can take before, during and after your flight to minimize the disruption of your healthy sleep cycle.  Here are some highlights to help you maintain healthy sleep while you travel.    

KEY SLEEP-SUPPORT STEPS:
BEFORE:
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Practice healthy habits:  A healthy routine supports a healthy shift in sleep cycles.   Commit to sound lifestyle choices in your diet and your routines of rest and exercise as part of your daily life, and keep on track with those supportive steps as you prepare for your trip.  Remember, adequate sleep is the foundation of optimal health, so plan to start your trip well rested and not burdened by a sleep deficit situation.

Adapt your schedule ahead of departure:  Adjusting your cycle of sleep ahead of time will start your transition to the destination’s time zone, rather than waiting and struggling to settle in after you land – an especially crucial process with multiple-zone crossovers.  Gradually reposition your routines for morning and bedtime, and shift the times you get up and retire for the night, at the rate of one hour a day over the days or weeks before departure.  

DURING:
Start arriving while in transit:   Set your watch for your destination’s clock so you begin to adjust your orientation to your new location.  Adjust your sleep cycle on the plane trip as much as possible; regulate your activities and orientation by relaxing and sleeping when it is night, and/or staying awake and engaged while it is daytime at the destination.

Support your system:  Stay hydrated so your metabolism can better handle the high-altitude travel.  Continue to sip water throughout the flight, while avoiding alcohol, coffee and caffeinated beverages, including sugary sodas.
Don’t just sit there:   The plane shouldn’t be the only thing in motion; moving around, stretching, seated exercises, and walking the aisles periodically (when the seat belt sign is off) help circulation and pliability in the muscles and joints of the spine and extremities, and recharge body functions.

ARRIVING:
Keep sleep a health priority: When you arrive at your destination, make sleep an ongoing priority.

  • Plan your trip, especially if it is a long one across many time zones, to include a rest and adaptation period before you jump into your activities.  Remember, your body clock neither automatically or immediately re-sets itself to the new rhythms of your destination.  In fact, experts estimate that the adaptation time needed by most individuals to establish a new healthy sleep pattern can be as much as 1 day per eastward time zone or 1 day per 1.5 westward time zones.
  • Coordinate your schedule; having a dedicated rest period can make your journey much more enjoyable and help you stay healthy and productive both during your travels and when you return home.   
  • Manage your surroundings; make sure your sleep environment is dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.  Remind friends and family of your time zone change to avoid telephone calls in the middle of the night.

Let the sunshine into your life:  Exposure to sunlight during the daytime at your new home away from home helps you on a host of metabolic levels, including the regulation of melatonin, the hormone linked to the sleep-wake cycle.
Eat well and eat with the locals:  Once you have arrived, follow the meal schedule of your new location.  Choose a balanced diet with plenty of liquids, especially water because dehydration is a serious possibility when you travel but is completely preventable.
Observing these basic action steps will have a major impact on your health and well being, both at home and on the road.  Your ability to secure a healthy night’s sleep is essential to maintaining a healthy metabolism.  Sleep plays a critical role in supporting a resilient mental and emotional capacity, in sustaining structural flexibility and stability, and in strengthening a robust, responsive immune system.  As a lifestyle choice, healthy sleep habits provide a genuinely effective strategy to maximize your capacity for productivity and discovery, whether your trip is for business, for pleasure, or both!

 


The International Chiropractors Association is presently engaged in a comprehensive review of sleep research with the aim of making those findings available to chiropractic practitioners worldwide. We also believe that this review of the current state of sleep research will point to areas where additional study is needed and, in cooperation with our affiliated educational institutions and with the support of our sleep products partner King Koil Indonesia, we hope to help fill such gaps in the understanding of healthy sleep. For more information contact International Chiropractors Association at chiro@chiropractic.org, 01-703-528-5000 or contact King Koil Indonesia.


 


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