Changing the clock for Daylight Savings Time, working and odd schedule, or flying to a different timezone can reek havoc on your sleep pattern leading to lack of coordination, inattention, general crankiness, and even, in some cases, heart attack.
Our bodies have an internal clock tuned to the setting and rising of the sun. Known as the circadian rhythm, this natural timing shifts subtly from season to season as the days get longer or shorter. The body struggles to adjust to sudden changes, especially when moved forward in time, which is why traveling west to east or “springing forward” is more difficult than falling back in time. Some experts believe our bodies never fully adjust to Day Light Savings Time, because the signals from the sun are out of sync with the time of day. Jet lag, however, usually subsides as soon as the body syncs with the sun in that location. Shift workers, or people traveling a long distance, battle sun signals that are at odds with the schedule they must keep. Both constant and sudden disruption to sleep patterns can cause the stress hormone, cortisol, to build up. This build up can trigger a heart attack in some cases. It is important to help your body to adjust.
Tackle the time change with these simple tips:
Be awake when it is light. We all know it is hard to get out of bed when it is still dark outside. If your watch is out of sync with the sun, use artificial light to cue your body to wake up. Some people use timers or special alarm clocks to turn lights on gradually just before they get up to cue their bodies to wake more gently. Getting outside in sunlight at some point during the day for at least 15 minutes will help your body adjust and boost your mood too. Avoid spending time in dimly lit areas during hours you need to be productive. If you must nap, try a quick nap in a comfortable chair rather than in a dark bedroom. Limiting naps to 20 minutes will allow you to awake refreshed rather than groggy.
Sleep when it is dark. We aren’t designed to sleep when the sun is up. Many shift workers find sleeping in a basement room with heavy shades is helpful. Avoid the blue light produced by television, computer, phone, and tablet screens for at least an hour before bedtime. If you must be outside in the sun near the time you need to sleep, wear dark glasses.
Embrace the present time. As quickly as possible, switch all clocks to the new time. Eat on a schedule, and get into a routine to allow your body to adjust. Try not to play the “what time would it be…” game with yourself. One of the best travel tips I ever received is to turn the clock in the hotel away from the bed. That way if you wake during the night, you aren’t tempted to calculate what time it is back home. This mental exercise keeps the brain awake.
Don’t embrace the present time. Yes, this is the exact opposite of the previous tip. Sometimes it makes sense not to change. If you have changed timezones, but are going back home tomorrow, it may be smart to stay true to your body clock. A fellow professional speaker lives on the west coast, but works much of the fall on the east coast. She stays on east coast time when she is at home so that she isn’t exhausted when she goes back to work.
Make the change slowly, if you can. If you know a shift in time is coming, try changing you sleep schedule slowing over a week or two instead of all at once. This slower shift makes the adjustment easier. Going to bed and waking 15 minutes earlier isn’t a big change per night, but can add up to a more gentle adjustment over time.
Get your body clock in sync to work and feel better!