There are three core rhythms in your circadian code — sleep, timing of food, and activity. It’s all about following natural daylight and nighttime rhythms. We are not that resilient when those rhythms are disrupted. Our bodies just can’t take it.
Changes in your circadian code make you vulnerable to a number of physical disorders and infectious diseases, including anxiety, insomnia, depression, breast/ovarian cancer, heart disease, and stroke, just to name a few.
When we travel, we disrupt our natural body clock. So when you’re traveling this summer, you need to consider what it’s doing to your body. “It takes longer than you might imagine for your body to adjust to even the smallest glitch in your circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Satchin Panda, author of The Circadian Code.
Time zone changes disrupt our circadian code. Most of us need one to two days to fully reset and recover from each hour of time-zone shifting when we travel. So if you’re traveling from Los Angeles to New York, you’ll need three to six days to recover — each way!
And it’s not just travel. Staying awake for three extra hours or delaying your breakfast by three hours on the weekend will affect your body as much as that cross-country flight. The key to feeling your best is consistent, well-timed sleep, meals, and activity.
How To Sync Up Your Circadian Rhythm While Traveling
1. Avoid caffeine after midday. Caffeine reduces the body’s natural sleep drive, making it harder to fall asleep when you want to.
2. Limit exposure to light in the evening (especially phone, tablet, and TV screens). The blue light emitted by screens interrupts our body’s natural relaxation into sleep mode.
3. Keep your bedroom at 70 degrees or cooler at night. The body has to cool down during nighttime to sleep (a one-degree drop in body temperature is needed for comfortable sleep).
4. Wear earplugs when you sleep. You might have to try a few before you find some that are comfortable. Reduced noise will help you sleep soundly.
5. Open your curtains or turn on a bright light as soon as you wake. Taking in bright light soon after waking will help reset your body for daytime.
6. Take a 5- to 15-minute morning walk. Get yourself outside and into the sunlight when you wake, with some gentle movement thrown in.
7. Snack during the day, but not at night — and don’t drink alcohol after dinner. Eating/drinking alcohol late at night reignites your gut and liver, waking up the body when you want it to slow down.
8. Exercise in the morning. A brisk walk in morning sunshine will synchronize your body and brain, making it easier to recover from jet lag. (Yes, you need to do this even when you’re fatigued from travel — especially when you’ve traveled one or more time zones.)
9. Avoid eating sugar in the afternoon — drink water instead. When you hit that mid-afternoon slump, don’t reach for a donut. Drink a tall glass of water or a cup of herbal tea instead — it will give you a surprising boost of energy.
10. Keep your weekly routine on the weekends. This one is tough. Who doesn’t love sleeping in and getting a late brunch on Sunday morning? But if you change your sleeping/eating times on the weekends, your circadian code will be as out of whack as if you’ve traveled 2+ time zones!
Use these concrete tips to eliminate fatigue and insomnia so they don’t interfere with your body’s natural rhythm while traveling.
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