Sleeping Tony

Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule

I don’t know about you all, but whenever I miss sleep, I am irritable and pissed off at the world.  I try to keep myself on a regular healthy sleep schedule to counter this, but with my job that’s not always possible.

There are plenty of reasons for a person to adjust their sleep schedule:  It could be that you changed shifts at your job, it could be because you traveled to a different time zone, or maybe you just want to stay up later/get up earlier for personal reasons.  I have some friends who can adjust their schedules easily; however, I am not one of those people.  As such, I have researched and experimented to discover methods for adjusting my sleep schedule that may help you, too.

Frog Pajamas
Ready for bed, rockin’ the frog PJs

When adjusting your sleep schedule consider your circumstances.  Once I traveled to a time zone that was 17 hours different from where I’d started, but because of the schedule I needed to work, I was able to get by without adjusting my sleep schedule at all.  Other times, I’ve had to adjust drastically and immediately because I had to go into work a few hours after my plane landed.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when making a time adjustment:

How much of a shift is required?
Do you need to change for only an hour or two, or do you need to adjust to a fourteen-hour time zone change?  It’s much easier to set your clock one hour back for daylight savings than it is to move from day shift to night shift, and you will have to adapt your methods accordingly.

How long will you need to be on the new schedule?
You’ll want to treat a one-time instance differently than something that is more long term.  If you just need to pull one all-nighter for a work project and then immediately go back to your normal schedule, you may want to adjust differently than if you have to go live in a different time zone.

Why do you need to change your schedule?
How important is it for you to keep a set schedule?  If you’re going to Hong Kong to enjoy the night life, it may be perfectly fine to keep sleeping during the day.  On the other hand, if you’re going to Hong Kong for a week of daytime meetings, you’ll definitely want to make sleep adjustment a priority.

Once you’ve figured out the terms of your adjustment, plan for it.  Obviously the more notice you have, the better, but make do with what you’ve got.  Here are some things to help out before you make the adjustment:

Be in good health and well rested
Eat healthy meals and get plenty of rest prior to changing your schedule.  The better the state of your health, the easier it is to make adjustments. (I once made the mistake of trying to travel after staying up all night.  Big mistake.)  Avoid using caffeine so that if you need it during and after travel it will be more effective.  Drink plenty of water before and during your flight (if you’re flying).

Allow for time adjustment when making your schedule
If you are traveling across time zones and you are able to give yourself an extra day or two in the new time zone, do it.  Schedule your flight to arrive on Friday rather than Sunday so you will have the weekend to overcome jet lag.  If you’re trying to adjust to a new shift for your job, you can start on your days off rather than on the day when you start the new shift.  This provides a bit of a cushion for your time adjustment.

Stock up on the supplies you’ll need
If you’re going to start working nights, buy thick, dark curtains and powerful lamps.  If you’re traveling, pick up a sleep mask and ear plugs.  I myself prefer not to use sleep aids, but if it’s something you’re willing to consider, talk to a doctor about using Ambien, melatonin or whatever else may help you.

Begin adjusting in advance
If your schedule will allow, set your alarm back or ahead in one or two hour increments each day, and go to bed earlier or later as needed.  This isn’t always possible, but it helps if you begin making the change gradually.

Set your watch as soon as you step on the planeBegin your transition immediately.  If it’s night time at your destination, try to get some sleep by covering up with a sleep mask and putting in some ear plugs.  If it’s day time at your destination, stay awake by stretching, walking up and down the aisles of the plane, and drinking a lot of water.

Sleeping Tony
Crashed out at the airport

And once you’ve reached your destination or once you’ve begun your new schedule, whatever you have or haven’t done to prepare no longer matters.  You’ll probably be tired at the wrong times and wired at the wrong times despite your best efforts, but that’s why this is the hard part.  Try the following:

Stay awake!This is the hardest part sometimes.  If you’re in a new time zone, try to stay up until 9 p.m.  Drinking water, exercising, and moderate doses of caffeine can all help you to stay awake until a reasonable time, but self-discipline is what will help you the most.

Control your periods of light and dark
This one helps, especially if you’re moving to a night schedule.  Most people’s bodies are wired for a diurnal schedule, so it is easier to stay awake in the light and sleep in the dark.  If you’re on a night schedule, turn on all the lights when you need to be awake, and block out all the light when you need to be asleep.  Curtains help, but sometimes they’re not enough, so you may want to get a sleep mask as well.

Get on the right meal schedule
Fast until it’s the right breakfast time for your new schedule.  Then eat lunch and dinner accordingly.  This will let your body know what time you’re on and ease the adjustment.

Use power naps to your advantageIf you know you’re going to have trouble staying awake later, head it off with a 15-30 minute cat nap.  I recommend doing these earlier rather than later, and they are particularly effective if you are going to have to stay awake for an all-nighter project or event.  No matter how tempting it is, though, don’t let yourself sleep for more than 30 minutes.  If your body goes into full REM sleep, you will wake up groggier than when you started.

I don’t recommend relying on coffee or alcohol to control your sleep schedule because their effects can vary from one individual to another.  Still a cup of coffee shortly after you wake up and another one after lunch can help offset those times when your body may need a jump start.  Alcohol is not a good sleep aid for me personally because I wake up as soon as it wears off, but I have friends who say it helps them sleep.  Know what works for you and use it safely and smartly.

Suffer!The biggest bummer is that although many of these items will help, you will probably still be tired for a few days while your body adjusts to the new schedule.  Sleep deprivation makes me cranky, and I know it.  Be conscious of what it does to you, and make an effort to be positive and have a good attitude despite your own personal suffering.  It will all be over in a few days, and in the mean time, you can be enjoying your life and everything around you at different hours than your body is used to.

If you have to adjust your sleep schedule, I hope you find these tips helpful.  These have all worked for me at one time or another.  Are there any methods you use to adjust your sleep patterns?  Leave a comment and let me know!


3 thoughts on “Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule

  1. Staying busy helps big time. I know the couple times I’ve gone overseas, as tired as I was the first couple days, I was able to adjust pretty quickly just because we were always doing something. When I try to adjust my schedule now by a few hours, it’s practically impossible to make a long-term change, because I have no structure. (And, if you’re asking, since I have no structure, why do I need to adjust my sleep schedule… no earthly reason other than that I feel like I “should.” That and I feel like I’m bugging my husband if I stay up till 2am.)

  2. I’m a firm believer in the power nap! For some reason I can tell myself “you’ve got one hour to rest” and I will fall right asleep and wake up totally recharged. But at night, I toss and turn for hours and hours…

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