What You Need to Know to Maintain your Circadian Rhythm and Improve Your Production on the Road
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel over to Europe to see a good friend get married. It was an epic trip that I won’t soon forget, but it came at a cost. Going ahead 9 hours in time without question altered how I functioned both mentally and physically (at least initially). While this is extreme in comparison to average travel, disrupting our circadian rhythms can really dampen our alertness and ability to perform at a high level. Whether you’re an elite athlete or just trying to increase production in the office it looks like there are ways to minimize jet lag and therefore increase performance when on the go.
What is a circadian rhythm?
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Not only does it regulate our sleep, but it has a hold on every metabolic and physiological function in our bodies. The way we eat, sleep, and feel psychologically all depends on the regulation of the circadian rhythm. When it’s off track or impaired it can lead to behavioral changes and decreases in performance physically as we’ve seen time and time again on the force plate.
Last year at our first annual Silicon Valley Health and Performance Summit, Cheri Mah discussed the impact of travel and sleep on performance. Knowing sleep deprivation has negative effects on physical and cognitive skills, Mah did a study on sleep extension with the Stanford Men’s Basketball Team where players demonstrated both psychomotor and mood benefits from getting more sleep than usual. Those players sprinted faster, reacted at quicker rates, and were less fatigued than with less hours of sleep – Not to mention won more games. Not only are collegiate athletes poor in the sleep department, but most of us that travel frequently suffer as well.
How to minimize jet lag
Cheri talked about the ability to minimize jet lag for athletes who are constantly hopping time zones, which can apply to just about anyone trying to improve performance on the road. To keep your circadian rhythm on balance you must prepare for your trip by understanding which way you’re heading (East-West) and how many time zones you are going to cross. On certain flights, it may be more advantageous to stay awake, while others may be to sleep. Those choices are dictated by light left in the day and how to match up your circadian rhythm with the destination time zone.
What about eating?
Just as light tells our bodies if it’s day or night, eating seems to play a role as well. Being able to adjust your watch and eat meals in accordance with the new time zone can help, but what about fasting? A study done at Harvard Medical Center identified a second “master clock” in mice that regulated circadian rhythms when food was scarce. Basically, by skipping meals our body’s circadian rhythm adjusts to conserve more energy.
When we eat food our bodies are working. This means insulin is being produced which can activate different genes linked to our internal clocks. On top of that, eating can stimulate our internal microbiome which releases hormones and other chemicals that can keep us awake. That being said, it may be beneficial to fast for certain periods of time to avoid jet lag.
Should you monitor your circadian rhythm?
Harpreet Rai, Founder of Oura Ring and speaker at this year’s Summit believes so. The Oura Ring is a wearable that gives circadian alignment guidance by tracking your daily habits and sleep patterns. By tracking your long-term data regarding sleep, recovery and activity, Oura is able to understand your personal circadian rhythm, which helps you to own your health and adjust as necessary. By identifying optimal bedtimes for individuals based on their current state it makes it easier to adjust on the fly and get back to homeostasis.
No one likes the way jet lag makes you feel and perform, period. While we are going to continue to hop time zones and travel to see friends or coworkers there are definitely ways to minimize the harmful effects of sleep deprivation on your circadian rhythm. Being proactive prior to flying is a big piece in elevating health and performance on the road.