Having flown across the U.S. pretty regularly to see my family in Bakersfield, I’ve always prided myself on how quickly I could conquer jet lag. True to form, I adjusted to my new Swiss time zone when I first moved here in about 12 hours. Maybe it was the excitement of starting a new life here that had me jumping out of bed. Maybe it was all the gorgeous sunshine we were having last fall, but I found it pretty effortless.
Since I’ve returned to Switzerland in January, the craziest thing has happened…
…I’ve never fully adjusted back to a normal sleeping schedule! For over a month. Sigh.
Lately, I force myself to go to bed around midnight, toss and turn for an hour or two and then draaaag myself out of bed at nine or 10. Given that I used to have to leave for the office at six am in D.C. (morning news job), my Swiss schedule sounds pretty luxurious. But my body clearly doesn’t like it, because I’m walking around in a haze and getting headaches more easily.
In an effort to get back on track, I’ve turned to the experts. Earlier this month, the National Sleep Foundation released updated guidelines about healthy sleep habits. Here they are:
Contrary to popular belief that all sleep is good, getting too much sleep as an adult can actually be as harmful as getting too little. So how do we hit that sweet spot? A few recommendations:
- Get some physical exercise, but completing it within two hours of bedtime can keep the brain too alert to fall asleep.
- Refrain from eating a big meal or drinking alcohol just before bedtime. An afternoon caffeine pick-me-up can also disturb sleep.
- Reduce stress before bedtime–take a bath, meditate or stretch. Excessive anxiety can trigger the body to release stimulating chemicals in the brain.
- Limit “screen” time before bed. Artificial lighting from one’s cell phone, laptop or TV suppresses natural circadian rhythms–particularly among children and adolescents–when one interacts with them within the last 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
- Get some natural sunlight during the day–Vitamin D can help the body produce sleep hormones (melatonin) more easily at night.
Some sleep experts recommend taking melatonin supplements if you are really struggling to get enough sleep. Although helpful, one should not take these for more than six to eight weeks. They may also interact harmfully with other medications you take, so check with your doctor first.
(Americans get the most sleep over President’s Day weekend–do you feel well rested?)
Here are a few fascinating articles I found on sleep: