I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Marc Milstein talk on the topic of sleep and its crucial role in our daily health. As travelers, this is a topic of great importance since gliding in and out of time zones on our various escapades can reek havoc with our shut eye. Here are my top 3 takeaways to managing jet lag (or really any sleep pattern that has been disrupted):
- When going to sleep, make the room as dark as possible. This includes using eye masks that block out light on flights and in hotel rooms that are too bright from light pollution (i.e. clock lights, bathroom night lights, television light, thin curtains, e-book readers, etc.).
- Wake up at a “normal” time (not mid-afternoon) in the morning and try to expose yourself to natural light as quickly as possible. This resets the clock in your brain that determines when you will get tired that evening.
- If you are really dragging during the day and just cannot stay awake, take either a short nap (no more than 30 minutes) or a longer nap (roughly 90 minutes). This is because of our Light-Deep-REM sleep cycle which repeats roughly every 90 minutes. Waking in the Light period leaves you feeling refreshed, but waking in the Deep or REM periods will leave you more groggy than before and affect your “brain clock” which manages your sleep.
Here are a couple of extra fun facts about sleep and our brain:
- When we are in REM sleep our brain is clicking on all cylinders as if we were wide awake. Our dreams are very intense and when you wake during this sleep, you almost always remember your dreams. However, did you know you are also paralyzed from your neck down in this state of sleep? This is to protect you from acting out your dreams and hurting yourself (and your bed partner).
- Studies have shown that our brain shrinks by 60% in our skull when we are in Deep sleep. This happens because our brain cells are constricting and squeezing the toxins out of our brain tissue which will then be excreted by our body later. It is a true “cleansing of the mind”. This would also explain the term “rattlebrain”, no? So, the next time someone asks you to clean something out, take a nap!
It’s fascinating what a perfectly tuned machine our body is and how we need to protect it by treating it right which includes getting enough sleep.
Sleeping girl photo courtesy of rachel CALAMUSA, Brain photo courtesy of WriterHound