You’re Back at BC, but Your Body Isn’t— how to acclimate to a new time zone as easily as possible
Think back to your high school biology class. You must have learned about the process of “circadian rhythms,” which are like little internal clocks. When we do something routinely, such as go to bed or eat at a certain time, our body programs that routine into its rhythms and will “remind” our bodies that a certain time goes in accordance with a certain activity– for example, if you eat breakfast every day at 9 a.m., soon enough you will always feel hungry around 9 a.m. Changing time zones throws off these circadian rhythms; our body has to reset these programs, a grueling task. But there are ways to minimize the struggle!
Start preparing at home if possible
It’s proven that flying east is much more difficult than flying west (sorry, West Coast Eagles–I feel your pain). As the saying goes, “west is best, east is beast.” If you’re coming from California or Oregon and whatnot, try to go to sleep a ~few~ hours earlier to prepare your body for Eastern Time. It’s more difficult to force yourself to fall asleep early rather than stay up late.
Have good sleep hygiene
There are rules and guidelines that people should follow. The Sleep Foundation outlines limiting naps to 20-30 minutes, avoiding stimulants–especially coffee!–before bed, exercising, spending enough time outside (exposure to natural light is healthy and natural), and try not to use electronic devices about an hour before bed. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests making your bedroom an environment conducive to sleep with lots of darkness and low noise and to sleep when you’re truly tired (not tired quite yet? Do something calm like read or listen to music).
Take the first few days back at school easy
What sylly week should be renowned for: being able to adjust to a new sleep schedule without much interference. Low-stress should make it easy to take care of yourself!Pro tip: Arrive to school a day or two before classes start to give yourself time to unpack, settle in and get an extra few nights of good rest before things get serious.
According to the Sleep Foundation, melatonin is “a naturally secreted hormone in humans that affects the body’s circadian rhythms.” It’s the hormone that tells our bodies it’s night time. There’s not much research, but there is a lot of testament to its powers. When I went to University Health Services over concerns of not adjusting well to the Boston time zone, Dr. Deanna Corey suggested I purchase melatonin over-the-counter. She does advise, however, that the “general jet lag tip is to try to acclimate to wherever you’re landing as soon as possible. And hydration does help.”
Take care of yourself before you’re in class looking like this!