Whether you’re a “Road Warrior” who has piled up thousands of Frequent Flier Miles, or someone who is planning a vacation to a distant location, you are likely to experience the phenomenon of “jet lag, which can have a profound effect on your sleep and alertness. Every day, millions of travelers struggle against one of the most common sleep disorders — jet lag. For years, jet lag was considered merely a state of mind. Now, studies have shown that the condition actually results from an imbalance in our body’s natural “biological clock” caused by traveling to different time zones. Basically, our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle called “circadian rhythms.” These rhythms are measured by the distinct rise and fall of body temperature, plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. All of these are influenced by our exposure to sunlight and help determine when we sleep and when we wake.
When traveling to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms are slow to adjust and remain on their original biological schedule for several days. This results in our bodies telling us it is time to sleep, when it’s actually the middle of the afternoon, or it makes us want to stay awake when it is late at night. This experience is known as jet lag.
Some simple behavioral adjustments before, during and after arrival at your destination can help minimize some of the side effects of jet lag.
According to experts, stress or the potential for stress is another problem that can lead to sleeplessness. Two common travel related stress conditions are the “First Night Effect” and the “On-Call Effect.” The first condition occurs when trying to sleep in a new or unfamiliar environment. The second is caused by the nagging worry that something just might wake you up, such as the possibility of a phone ringing, hallway noise or another disruption.
Try these tips on you next trip to help avoid travel-related stress and subsequent sleeplessness.
The most common environmental elements affecting sleep are noise, sleep surface, temperature or climate, and altitude. Your age and gender also play a part in determining the level of sleep disturbance caused by these factors. One study found that women are more easily awakened than men by sonic booms and aircraft noise, while other research indicates that men may be more noise sensitive. Children are generally insensitive to extreme noise levels. However, this high threshold declines with age.
Noises at levels as low as 40 decibels or as high as 70 decibels generally keep us awake. Interestingly, however, the absence of a familiar noise can also disrupt sleep. City dwellers may have trouble falling asleep without the familiar sounds of traffic. Or a traveler may find it difficult to sleep without the familiar tick, tick, tick of the alarm clock at home.
Some noises, although annoying at first, can gradually be ignored, allowing sleep to follow. Studies show people can get used to noises such as city traffic in about one week. However, important noises, like a parent’s baby crying, a smoke alarm or even one’s own name being called, are not easily assimilated and generally snap us awake.
Experts are also studying the ability of certain sounds to induce sleep. “White noise,” such as caused by a fan, air conditioner, or radio static, can often block out unwanted noise and encourage sleep.
As mentioned, certain behaviors can help your body better adjust to new time zones and surroundings. Although there are no guarantees to a fast and sound sleep, simple adjustments in your behavior when traveling may help you get the quality of rest needed to start the day refreshed.
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