Home Personal Psychology Sleeping/Dreaming Pathways to Sleep: I-E. From Health to Sleep–Time Zone Challenges

Pathways to Sleep: I-E. From Health to Sleep–Time Zone Challenges

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In making this adjustment, you might consider some of the other pathways I am featuring in this series: perhaps a bit more exercise than usual or a ½ hour in the hot tub. It might be particularly important for you to eat at an earlier hour and to move up other habitual behaviors by an hour each day. Obviously, the opposite would be the case if you are traveling to a time zone location that is three hours earlier (it is 7pm in this location but 10pm where you are now residing). It is a matter of adjusting not just the time you are going to bed, but also the other pathways that help prepare you for sleep and help you remain asleep. Sadly, it is often very tempting to take a sleeping pill when preparing for travel – but this can be a very slippery slope (as I have discussed)—especially if you travel quite a bit.

This policy of gradualism makes a great deal of sense. The experts should be followed: adjust by one hour for each time zone you expect to cross. Most importantly, the gradualism policy should be adopted at both end of the travel plan. When you return home, there should be a gradual transition from the old time zone to the new one (your home location). If you are returning from a location that is 5 hours ahead of your home location, then you might want to eat a bit earlier and fall asleep a bit earlier in the evening – arriving at the “regular” time of meals and sleep over four to five days. Or plan for the opposite transition if coming from a time zone that is 5 hours behind. At the very least, recognize that the adjustment is almost as great in returning home as in leaving home (though there is usually less trauma in returning to a familiar bed and long-established pre-sleep habits).

So, no problem. All is well and good with adopting a gradualism plan. Except . . . What if you are traveling halfway around the world – as I often do. There is no way in which you can adopt a gradualism plan if the time zone to which you are traveling is 12 hours ahead (or behind – it is all the same). How do you start going to sleep at noon and wake up at midnight? And can you really begin this radical adjustment twelve days before leaving on your globe-spanning trip. How will your family accommodate this radical (rather long-term) shift? Can you really perform your job adequately while making this transition? It is fine to adopt a rule-of-thumb heuristic to make a shift of one hour for each time zone—but it becomes quite a challenge when this shift is of a greater magnitude than 3 or 4 hours. This is where the other two pathways come into focus. In many cases, we are indebted to those women and men who are in the business of traveling across many time zones many times during a month or year. These are the pilots and flight attendants for whom Jet Lag is an occupational hazard.

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