We are three weeks into our 4 week trip. Our time changes have been pretty big. We went from New Zealand to Hong Kong, to break up the long trip to Moscow. Hong Kong is 4 hours behind NZ. Moscow is 8 hours behind NZ, we stayed there four nights, then went east to Novokuznetsk – which is 5 hours behind NZ. We had 6 nights in Novokuznetsk, then traveled to London which is 11 hours behind New Zealand. A fair few time changes.
I’ve actually managed the time changes surprisingly well, and when sleeping in real beds I’ve had plenty of quality sleep. The only disrupted sleep we had was due to very early morning starts or overnight plane trips – it’s very hard to get much sleep in cattle class.
Melatonin – a must have for travel
My must have for international travel is melatonin. I’d never be without it. The first night of a time change I take 2 – 3 mg. I know some people take more – but this amount works for me. If the time change means I’m going to sleep earlier than normal I take it an hour before sleeping – so it makes me sleepy. If I need to sleep in compared to my home hours, I take melatonin immediately before bed. Melatonin has a short half-life, despite this it keeps me asleep all night. A long acting melatonin supplement may be more useful if you have difficulty staying asleep.
More reading on supplementing melatonin:
National Sleep Foundation – “Melatonin and Sleep”
During the day – get plenty of exercise and bright sunlight
During the day – I spend as much time as possible outside in sunlight. As soon as I get up – I get sun, this suppresses melatonin (the night time hormone) and increases serotonin. This is critical in my experience to re-balance the sleep cycle as quickly as possible. Being physically active improves mood and sleep quality. I love walking around new cites and just taking in the feel and the sights, so walking a lot and getting maximum sunlight are easy.
For some great posts on the benefits of sunlight: ThatPaleoGuy.com (sunlight)
Sleep when it is the dark, and make your room as dark as possible.
To maximise you melatonin production, sleep in a pitch black room, most hotels have blackout curtains, this hasn’t been a problem on our trip. (Another must have is a small torch with a red light setting – so if I get up in the night to go to the toilet, I don’t have to put a light on) I go to sleep about an hour after dark if I am tired even if it’s only 9 pm. That way all my sleeping is during natural dark hours. Keep away from any mental activity that will keep your brain alert in the hour before you sleep, and dim the lights in your room. Dim gold evening light tells your brain that it is getting dark and increases melatonin.
Meal patterns, coffee and alcohol
Meals – I stick to 3 meals, at regular intervals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tend to keep to a zone/ paleo meal, and start the day with a decent amount of protein. This stops hunger and carbohydrate cravings, and helps me feel more alert, and the meal often lasts me 4- 7 hours. I usually have one or two coffees at breakfast, which help me feel alert also.
However – don’t drink coffee if it affects your sleep, and always keep it to a limited amount and early in the day.
Don’t eat a large meal at night. Eating a large evening meal always impacts on my sleep. Traveling often involves eating out at restaurants, which I love. I tend to stick to starters or light meals, or I share a main.
Alcohol impacts on sleep quality too. I like to try local wines so to avoid wine affecting my sleep, I tend to have a pre-dinner wine – or eat earlier, and I have no alcohol for at least 2 hours before bed.
Stick to a clean diet
I don’t go away and eat junk just because I’m on holiday – I don’t see the point. I usually put on weight and feel flat if I do. Do I have treats? Yes, I’ll try local wines, eat chocolate and ice-cream occasionally or have a (gluten free) dessert or treat.