Jet Lag and Insomnia
Those who travel know how skipping across time zones can play havoc with sleep patterns. Despite the myriad tips and techniques that float around about preventing jet lag, the only sure way to combat it is to begin adjusting your biological clock before leaving on your trip. This means gradually altering your sleep-wake schedule. But it definitely works.
First, you must determine whether your destination is ahead or behind your sleep schedule. If you lived in New York, for instance, and were traveling to London, your destination would be five hours ahead. If you lived in New York and were to fly to San Francisco, your destination would be three hours behind. So here's the formula: Start adjusting your sleep-wake schedule several days in advance of your trip to match the number of time zones you are crossing.
For instance, if London is your destination, and your normal bedtime in New York is midnight, you must begin going to bed earlier each night to adjust your sleep-wake schedule. Say you have five days before your trip and you make an effort to retire progressively earlier each night. By the day of your departure you are going to bed at 9:00 p.m. instead of midnight. This means you've already helped your body clock adjust to three of the five hours of difference. You would most likely adjust quickly to the two-hour difference that remains.
Research shows that for every time zone you cross, it takes a little less than a day to adjust your body clock. So every effort you make to alter your sleep-wake schedule prior to leaving helps.
In preparation for your return trip, you simply apply the same principle but in reverse, going to bed later rather than earlier. It's well known among seasoned travelers that journeying east to west seems to be an easier adjustment for most people than going west to east.
Unfortunately, for those traveling across more than six time zones, this process becomes hard to apply. You can only adjust your sleep schedule so much before it becomes burdensome in other ways. In these situations, shift as many sleep-wake hours as is practical prior to your departure. When you arrive at your destination, immediately begin operating on local time; that is, sleep at night and be up and active during the day.
While you will probably experience some of the symptoms of jet lag for at least several days, you will be better off than if you hadn't made any prior adjustment at all. Another wise move, no matter which direction you're traveling, is to make sure you get a couple of good nights of sleep before your departure.
Night-shift work can also wreak havoc on your sleeping schedule. Find out how to overcome insomnia while working at night on the next page.