My brain was in overdrive and sleep proved to be as difficult to conjure up as ordering a butterfly to land on my outstretched hand. Instead, I was running up hill and down valley, across meadows and plains trying to get the darn butterfly of sleep – to just land (already!). Needless to say, that didn’t work. Staying awake in the day with sleep eluding me at night…well, I was starting to feel a little…on edge.
With some research and contemplation, I found steps that, collectively taken, have taken me off that edge (and I’m sleeping most of the night). Here is the sleep-winning combination:
Wake up with the sun
Early exposure to sunlight signals to your brain that it is daytime. This helps you enter a state of wakefulness and slowly dusts away the cobwebs of sleepiness. Since I live so far north I use artificial light to signal to my body that it is daytime. I start gently with low lighting and candles and gradually shift to full lighting. I open my blinds and look out as daylight breaks, being sure to expose my eyes to as much light as possible. I also go on a midday walk. Moderately exercising in the daytime can help you use up energy and increase your tiredness later in the day.
Eat on a schedule
Eating at the normal times in your new time zone helps to reset your circadian rhythm (even if you aren’t hungry). Once I started a fairly strict eating schedule, my hunger began to signal mealtimes to me very quickly. Establishing normal body functions are powerful tools for creating states of wakefulness and sleep.
Drink (LOTS of) water
Being hydrated provides adequate circulation to all of your organs. With everything functioning as it should physiologically, your body is able to truly rest. This is most pertinent during your flight, but it helps afterward too. I increased my water intake by one-third of my normal intake (yes, it means a lot of trips to the bathroom – but it is worth it!). Be sure to avoid coffee, tea and alcohol; get your hydration from pure, unadulterated water.
Embrace the dark
Reducing or eliminating exposure to screens and light in the evening hours helps your body begin to naturally produce melatonin, a hormone that increases your sleepiness. I set my “go dark” time to between 5 and 6 pm. I don’t expose my eyes to the computer, TV or iPhone screens after that. And guess what? I have so much time! Plus banishing my iPhone means I’m not tempted to check the time when I wake up in the night, helping me to focus on riding the waves of sleep as they come.
It goes without saying that relaxation promotes sleepiness. Find what works for you. I’ve established my very own relaxation regimen. After the “go dark” deadline I like to completely dim our apartment lighting. Then I take a warm bath. About an hour before I plan on sleeping I drink chamomile tea (this induces a relaxed, sleepy state). I spend time in my spiritual practice, which helps me come to a place of trust and rest. Then after stretching or evening yoga I go to bed. Spending a good half an hour cradled in my husbands arms usually puts me right to sleep. The rhythm of his heart and breath, coupled with his calming presence is a superb sleeping aid. Then if I wake later in the night I practice deep breathing and try to focus my mind on things that bring me back to a state of rest.
So there you have it – my five tips for overcoming jet lag (they’re for me too, since I have endless transatlantic flights in my future). How about you – how do you negotiate the throes of jet lag?