Basic information for topics, such as “What is it?” is available in the About Sleep section. Answers to other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) specific to sleep are in this section.
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, traveling from California to New York makes your body’s biological clock “lose” 3 hours. 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 hormone that is produced by the body and sold as a treatment for insomnia, can help treat 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 healthcare provider.
Sleep experts at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommend that you try several approaches if you have trouble falling asleep:1
- 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 can be found in coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, certain teas, diet drugs, and pain relievers. Nicotine affects how deeply you sleep, and smokers tend to sleep very lightly. Alcohol prevents people from entering deep sleep (sleep stage 3) 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 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, such as 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 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 healthcare 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 healthcare provider.
SIDS is the sudden death of an infant younger than 1 year old that remains unexplained even after a thorough investigation. SIDS is viewed as a “sleep-related” cause of infant death because infants die during sleep. It is a leading cause of death in children between 1 month and 1 year of age.3
NICHD leads the Safe to Sleep ® campaign (formerly the Back to Sleep campaign) to educate parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers about ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as accidental suffocation.
Healthcare providers don’t know what exactly causes SIDS, so there is no sure way to prevent SIDS. However, there are ways to reduce baby’s risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death, including:
- Always place infants on their backs to sleep, for naps and at night. 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.
- Place baby on a firm, flat sleep surface, such as on a mattress in a safety-approved* crib covered by a fitted sheet with no other loose bedding or soft items in the sleep area.
- Breastfeed your baby to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Share your room with baby. Keep baby in your room close to your bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for baby’s first year but at least for the first 6 months.
To learn more about safe infant sleep, visit the Safe to Sleep ® website, including the Ways to Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Causes of Infant Death page.
*Visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website for more information about safety-approved baby sleep areas.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Brain basics: Understanding sleep. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
- National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Melatonin and sleep. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep
- Heron, M. (2016). Deaths: Leading causes for 2014. National vital statistics reports, 65(5). Retrieved January 17, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_05.pdf (PDF 4.1 MB)