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Understanding Your Sleep Cycle and a Trick to Beat Jet Lag

Trying to maintain productivity while on the road, jumping in and out of time zones, can be quite challenging. Even those who aren’t on the road but enjoy the occasional 4am bender or just have a rotating work schedule, start to experience difficulty with their energy levels in the morning and their ability to fall asleep at night.

Ever wonder why you are always so groggy in the mornings or rely on drugs with side affects just to be able to get to sleep at night? Chances are, your sleep cycle is just screwed up. Learning some of the fundamentals of our sleep cycle can go a long way towards helping you live a more productive, peaceful, and happier life.

By no means do i consider myself an expert so I will avoid getting too technical in this article. With that said I do find this subject extremely important. I’d like to share some general information in hopes to spark your own interest, to research and further your own understanding on the topic.

Sleep Clock

Your body has a biological clock called the “Circadian Rhythm” that tells your body when to wake up and when to fall asleep. It does this by signaling hormones to fire at a certain time every morning. Sometimes you get in those groves where, regardless of if you slept 4 or 8 hours you wake up feeling great with a jump in your step. This means your body is in sync with its sleep clock.  Then you may have other days where you wake up feeling groggy and lazy, even after a full 8 hours of sleep. Then you’ll have energy at some random late hour and won’t be able to sleep until the wee hours. Some people mistake this for thinking they need more sleep or slept too much, but in reality your body clock is out of whack and the right hormones aren’t firing at the right time. Certain chemicals are also released when it’s getting close to bed time, if those chemicals aren’t being released then you may find it hard to sleep. Melatonin is a natural supplement that i’d highly recommend looking into as a natural sleep aid. Id highly advise not to rely on it every single night as that means you are avoiding fixing the root problem of your circadian rhythm being out of wack.

Sunlight

Sunlight is also very important to a healthy sleep cycle. The reason why sunlight wakes you up in the morning is because it, alongside your circadian rhythm, signals certain hormones to fire.  Not only does sunlight wake you up in the morning but it also plays a role in winding your body down at the appropriate time at night, helping you fall asleep. Indoor lighting can also interfere with this cycle, especially late at night.  There are some full spectrum lights worth researching that help emulate certain properties of the sun, for people who may not get an appropriate amount of sunlight throughout the day. Some people get too much of this artificial light close to nighttime which interferes with their ability to sleep, especially those who stare at a computer or phone screen for hours right before they go to bed.  For those of you who do use the computer quite a bit at night, I’d highly recommend installing a free program I use called f.lux “It makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night, and like sunlight during the day”. There also are special glasses you can research and buy that you can use while using the computer late at night. Ideally it’s best to avoid being on the computer and phone screen late at night. I personally find eye masks great for blocking out artificial light from the street to help me fall sleep. The problem with this is that it blocks out the natural sun light that creeps into your room in the morning that is necessary to help trigger the chemical release you need in the morning. You can find your own creative ways to figure out a system but in a nutshell; If you could hypothetically have blackout drapes in the evening that somehow opened before the sun starts to rise, it would give you the ideal effects you need to fall asleep and wake up in a natural environment.

Beating Jet Lag

I hear so many travelers say things like, “I’ll just stay up all night the day before i fly and adjust my time schedule” or “I’ll take a nap when I land for x amount of hours which should put me on schedule” According to a study done by a team from Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, your Circadian rhythm can only change by about 2 hours a day. This would mean that the two above statements are complete nonsense.

This study which is only a few years old, discovered that we have an even stronger clock than our circadian rhythm, which can be thought of as a “Food Clock”

Here’s how to active your “Food Clock” to beat jet lag by the time you land.

Example: Flying from NY 9:30pm landing in Paris 11am (Paris is on a 6 hour later time zone, and the flight is 7.5 hours)

1. Choose what time you want to wake up everyday once in Paris: 9am

2. Stop eating 12-16 hours before your target time at your destination: 5-9pm Paris time or  11am-3pm NY time. So you’re basically eating lunch the afternoon of your flight and then fasting the rest of the day.

3. Break your fast at 9am Paris time, which would be while you are still on the plane with about 2 hours to go. It is important that you FEAST and have a proper full meal or maybe even a little more, not just a snack.

If possible it is important to sleep as much as you can while on the plane, prior to breaking your fast. Avoid caffeine or alcohol during the fast but water is okay.  Based on how much sleep you have gotten you may or may not be tired on your first day. By day 2 your hormones will start firing at 9am and you should be good to go for the rest of the week. Make sure you wake up to some natural sun light as well!

It’s likely that this trick works due to a  survival technique established through years of evolution. Think of an animal in the wild starving and having a hard time finding food to survive.  All of the sudden at 6am it finds food. Now it’s “Food Clock” will remember that every day at 6am there is a higher probability that it may find food, and that it must fire these hormones to wake up to increase its chances of survival. From here on out your sleep schedule will instantly be reset and you may even fin sit hard to sleep in past 6am for the next few days regardless of if you get a full night of sleep or not.

Keep in mind there are many different aspects of jet lag and this particular trick helps solve a pretty large part of it but there are still many other aspects, for example timing of sunlight and darkness exposure prior to your flight.

As this study is relatively new, there is still limited evidence and human trial to prove or deny the validity of the fast, but the amount of anecdotal evidence so far, has been very strong.  I’ve been using it for a couple years now and I certainly don’t think it’s merely a placebo affect. I’ve had about a 70% success rate with it over a sample size of about 10 trials.

Feel free to share your thoughts, questions, and results below!

Cheers and Happy Lifestyle =)

FJ

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