Jet lag: If you fly a lot, have may have noticed that it screws up your sleep. The more time zones you cross, the more damage and struggle. The experience was captured in the film, Lost in Translation, where the circadian inversion of traveling to Tokyo has both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters bound into a nocturnal hell as they struggle against sleeplessness by night and sleepiness by day.
And as I’ve hopefully established in other posts and the hundreds of podcasts I’ve appeared on, the ramifications of screwed up sleep are systems-wide. Hormones, health, ability to think, ability to remember, capacity to handle stress, willpower, strength, stamina, endurance, productivity, ability to communicate with loved ones, happiness, sex life and on and on and on.
Here’s the deal with distance travel and sleep: It’s unnatural. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s normal. We just didn’t evolve for rapid travel across time zones. Especially when we’re talking epic changes of time zone, like the 14-hour difference between NYC and Sydney, Australia. But even flying from LA to NYC is going to give you some trouble.
There’s no completely getting around the problems it creates. This is one of those situations where digging into your sleep hygiene toolbox can help you at least mitigate the problems and prevent as much damage as possible.
Here’s one tip for how to use light saturation to help you prepare for a trip. While it won’t eliminate the struggle, it will spread the struggle out across a broader span of time. It might also help you be a little more on top of your game for a big presentation or job interview that is scheduled at a time you might normally be asleep.
Three or four days before you leave for the trip, use your sleep hygiene tools to start to align your your internal clocks for the time zone you’ll be arriving in. The basic idea is to simulate the natural light and darkness of the zone you’ll be landing in. So if you’re traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast, and you normally start your sleep routine at 9pm for a 10pm sleep time, then recalibrate the ritual so that you’re using your blue-light-blocking glasses, meditation and supplements several hours earlier. If you normally take melatonin or my sleep supplement at 9, you would take it at 6pm while you’re still on the west coast.
You basically shift your sleep ritual so that the target time of going to sleep is the same as the destination you’ll be traveling to. Will this make you sleepy early while still at home? Yes. As I mentioned, this is about spreading out the struggle to make it less of an all-at-once dose.
You’ll also want to use light saturation and perhaps an early morning workout to help you wake up earlier when you’re on the East Coast. Especially if the big meeting or interview you’re heading to is 8am. This is another shift in your schedule to apply three or four days before traveling. Rather than getting up at 7am California time, you’d begin your day at 4am or so, in sync with East coast time.
Using a light saturation technology in the dark world of 4am will also help set off the right hormones to give you a kick in waking up. This prepares you for the sun coming up over the Atlantic.
If you’re traveling East to West, reverse the thinking, using light, exercise (workout later in the day to start moving your sleep time later), meditation/yoga and other hygiene steps to spread out the struggle.