12 ways to change your body clock 12 ways to change your body clock

Learn how to use your body's powerful natural cycles to your advantage, and tomorrow just got a whole lot brighter...

Decide whether it's smart to nap

"If you've flown all night and enter a new time zone feeling extremely fatigued, having a little nap is not a bad idea," says Siobhan Banks, senior research fellow at University of South Australia's Centre for Sleep Research. "Sleeping for a couple of hours, waking up and having some coffee, then getting out and about can help to relieve fatigue and is also good for safety reasons... then try to go to sleep at a regular time at night," she says.

If you're feeling a bit tired but strong enough to push through, a little discipline can go a long way in helping you adjust more quickly. "If you're disciplined about hours of sleep and hours of wakefulness at your destination, you'll get into synch pretty promptly," says Sleep Health Foundation chair, Professor David Hillman. "If you sleep whenever you feel like it during the day, you're going to spend half the night awake and it's going to take ages."  He suggests forming a routine from the get-go to be active during the day and in bed at a reasonable time of night.

Calculate the best times to sleep

There are some great calculators online that can help determine when to get your bright light fix, and when to sleep, both before you go and during travel. Timing varies depending on whether you're traveling east or west, and getting it wrong can actually prolong the jet lag. "I once took two weeks to get over jet lag after traveling to Philadelphia," says Banks. "Accessing those cheat sheets online are the best thing. And - although this rarely happens - try to be well rested before you go. Then when you're out of sorts and sleep deprived, you'll have reserves."

Make food your friend

Could training your body to respond to food at certain times of the day be beneficial for diminishing the effects of, say, jet lag? Romy Doherty, an accredited practising dietitian from Nutrition Australia, ACT, certainly thinks so, and suggests altering meal times in the days leading up to departure. "Gradually delaying or bringing forward meal times by half an hour each day will help to adjust your body clock to your destination time zone and reduce jet lag," she says.

Establish a nightly routine

Establish a nightly routine before bed that relaxes you and helps you to switch off. "You can't expect to go to bed when your heart and mind are racing and slip easily into your nighttime routine," says Banks. "Having a cup of chamomile tea or reading in bed, listening to a mindfulness tape, stretching, and breathing are all great for helping you to calm down and get rid of the stress from the day."

Exercise

Exercise is great for relieving stress, but getting sweaty too close to bed time (unless it's between the sheets, which can induce relaxation) can raise your body temperature, your heart rate and release a flood of hormones that you don't want at that stage of the day. "Research is mixed about whether insomniacs get benefits from exercise," says Banks. "Athletes have been shown to sleep more deeply after exercise, but if the aim is to calm down, then try to exercise earlier in the day." Having a warm bath, on the other hand, raises your temperature and then drops it when you get out, which is great preparation for sleep.

Eat clean

"Long-haul flights and lots of travelling can take a toll on your body's immunity, making you more susceptible to picking up viruses (not to mention greater exposure to viruses in close quarters with many other people)," says Leanne Elliston, an accredited practising dietitian from Nutrition Australia, ACT. "Keeping up your fruit and veg intake, for immune boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, is essential."

Get some natural melatonin

"Every time zone you cross - every hour difference - takes about a day to readjust," explains Hillman. "Using melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone available in tablet form) can be a helpful strategy if you want to get your body clock quickly readjusted."

The idea is to take melatonin to help signal to your body it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep, also encouraging your body's natural melatonin production to rise.

"Light switches off production, so get up in the morning and get out in the daylight to suppress melatonin. Just remember to avoid wearing heavy sunglasses (which shut out light), if you can," says Hillman.

Eat a protein-rich breakfast

Hit up high-protein options at the hotel buffet or tempting local brunch spots. "Eating a high protein breakfast helps to stabilise your blood sugar, increasing alertness, preventing energy lags, and helping concentration," says Doherty. "Great protein breakfast foods can include eggs, yoghurt, nuts or baked beans."

Sync your food

Avoid a heavy meal before bed, but try to at least include some carbohydrates - they contain the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps to induce sleep.

"You could also try a glass of reduced-fat milk before bed to encourage relaxation and enhance sleepiness," says Doherty. "Milk is rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which contributes to the production of sleep-promoting melatonin in the brain."

Banks says that eating out of sync can give your body mixed messages: "Your stomach and liver have clocks, too, that help to regulate insulin and cortisol. Aim to stay hydrated, eat small meals and then try and get into a rhythm when you arrive at your destination as best you can."

Say no to sugar

Sugary snacks may help to overcome temporary dips in energy, but they'll leave you feeling worse once the lift wears off. "You may feel a quick burst of energy after having a chocolate bar or soft drink, but it won't last long and you may experience low energy levels later on," says Doherty. "Instead, enjoy nutritious snacks like fruit, nuts and yoghurt to help you stay alert and keep your energy up."

Try not to stress

If insomnia is driving you crazy or you find yourself waking up at ridiculous hours, try not to worry too much - the stress won't help! In medieval times, it was common practice to break long winter nights into two segments of four-hour sleeps, broken up by a period of activity.

"If you find yourself unable to get back to sleep after half an hour, get up and do something quietly in low light such as reading or listening to music," says Hillman. "Avoid bright screens or anything too arousing and head back to bed when you're drowsy again."

Limit caffeine

Stimulant + diuretic = disrupted sleep + dehydration. It's not a good equation - lay off the cola and coffee.

If symptoms persist...

Delayed sleep phase syndrome: a disorder that prevents people from getting to sleep until very late at night - sometimes three or four o'clock in the morning. People with DSPS experience a type of permanent state of jet lag where their body's internal clock is continually out of whack. It occurs most commonly in teenagers (around seven per cent have it).

Source: sleephealthfoundation.org.au