Why are sleep patterns sometimes thrown off after traveling across time zones?
Circadian rhythms are disrupted when people travel from one time zone to another. The feeling that you experience when your circadian rhythms (biological cycles) are disrupted is called "jet lag." The reason for jet lag is the change in time zones. For example, in traveling from California to New York, you will "lose" 3 hours according to your body's biological clock. When you are in New York and your alarm rings at 8:00 a.m., you will feel tired and groggy because your body is still on California time, which would be 5:00 a.m. It will take your body a few days to adjust to the new time zone, but the adjustment will eventually take place.1 After a couple of days, you will find that 8:00 a.m. feels like the correct time to wake up if that is part of your normal schedule and you have had adequate sleep.
Some studies have shown that supplements of melatonin, a natural hormone that is produced by the body and sold as a treatment for insomnia, can help in treating jet lag. This supplement has been especially effective for people crossing five or more time zones and for those traveling east. However, additional studies are needed to test the safety and effectiveness of melatonin for insomnia and jet lag; few studies are available, and it has not been tested for long-term use.2 Before you take any kind of supplement, be sure to check with your health care provider.
What are some tips for a good night's sleep?
Sleep experts recommend that you try several approaches if you have trouble falling asleep:3
- Set a schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Exercise 20 to 30 minutes each day. Regular daily exercise can help people sleep, as long as it is not done too close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and can keep you awake. Caffeine is found in coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, certain teas, diet drugs, and pain relievers. Nicotine affects the depth of sleep, and smokers tend to sleep very lightly. Alcohol prevents people from entering deep sleep (sleep stages 3 and 4) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
- Relax before bed. Try taking a warm bath, reading, or drinking warm herbal tea before falling asleep. You can train yourself to associate these types of restful activities with sleep, particularly if you make them part of your nighttime ritual.
- Sleep until sunlight. Try to wake up with the sunrise, if possible. If this is not possible, use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight (or bright light) helps the body's internal biological clock reset itself each day. Experts recommend an hour of exposure to morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.
- Don't lie in bed awake. If you are unable to fall asleep, try doing something else, like reading, watching television, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety you feel when you are unable to fall asleep further contributes to insomnia. Therefore, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep can worsen the problem of insomnia.
- Control your room temperature. Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom. Temperature extremes can disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
- Know when it is time to see a health care provider. You should visit your doctor or a sleep specialist if you continue to have problems sleeping. If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired during the next day, you may have a sleep disorder and should see a health care provider.
What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is sometimes called "crib death" because most SIDS deaths occur when infants are sleeping. However, cribs do not cause SIDS. SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old. It is the leading cause of death in children between 1 month and 1 year of age. Most SIDS deaths happen when infants are between 2 months and 4 months of age.
Health care providers don't know what exactly causes SIDS, but they do know certain things can help reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Always place infants on their backs to sleep. Infants who sleep on their backs are less likely to die of SIDS than infants who sleep on their stomachs or sides. Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep is the number one way to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Use the back sleep position every time. Infants who usually sleep on their backs but who are then placed on their stomachs, such as for a nap, are at very high risk for SIDS. So it is important for infants to sleep on their backs every time, for naps and at night.
- Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet. Never place a baby to sleep on a pillow, quilt, sheepskin, or other soft surface.
- Keep soft objects, toys, and loose bedding out of your baby's sleep area; don't use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, or pillow-like bumpers in your baby's sleep area. Keep all items away from the baby's face.
- Avoid letting your baby overheat during sleep; dress your baby in light sleep clothing and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.
- Think about using a clean, dry pacifier when placing your baby down to sleep, but don't force the baby to take it. (If you're breastfeeding, wait until your child is 1 month old or is used to breastfeeding before using a pacifier.)
To learn more about safe sleep environments and reducing the risk of SIDS, check out the NICHD publication What does a safe sleep environment look like? (PDF — 190 KB)
The Back to Sleep public education campaign was started in 1994 as a way to educate parents, caregivers, and health care providers about the methods for reducing the risk of SIDS and is a good resource for additional information.
The campaign was named for its recommendation to place healthy infants on their backs to sleep. Placing infants on their backs to sleep reduces the risk for SIDS. This campaign has been successful in promoting infant back sleeping and other risk-reduction strategies to parents, family members, child care providers, health professionals, and all other caregivers of infants.
This campaign is supported by the NICHD, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, First Candle/SIDS Alliance, and the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs.
Since the campaign started, the percentage of infants placed on their backs to sleep has increased dramatically, and the overall SIDS rates have declined by more than 50% (PDF - 49 KB).
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Sleep and circadian rhythms In Brain basics: Understanding sleep. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#circadian_rhythms [top]
- National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Melatonin and sleep. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep [top]
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Tips for a good night's sleep In Brain basics: Understanding sleep. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#Tips [top]