Personal Experiences of working against the Circadian Rhythm

The last blog in this series threw up three main ways we can influence our circadian rhythm – Melatonin supplements, light therapy and exercise. So I decided to try and look into what personal experiences people had with relation to using these three possible solutions.

I Was not able to find anyone that directly associated exercise with combating sleep issues or jet lag, but here is what I did discover.

Crossing time zones

In general it was assumed by this, that I meant crossing many time zones, and the possible suffering of jet lag. Of course, that is a factor, however a person from the USA said that they cross time zones, but only within their country, which made me assume that this did not in fact count. It very much DOES still count. It certainly seems that daylight savings time could have an effect on our rhythm, a study in part supported also by the journal of circadian rhythms.

Night Workers

In general it seems that shift workers could suffer considerably from the fact that they work against the circadian cycle. My husband works shifts, and certainly agrees with the research in the previous blog, which details that the low point is around 4am. He says this is the time in his shift that he usually feels most tired, despite working within a well lit building. A nurse that I spoke to says her issue was more to do with the constraints and demands of the daily rituals, so for example, for her, she always felt short of sleep because she had to get up after 3 hours to collect her youngster from nursery. It would also follow, therefore that shift workers may not sleep as well, because of the natural noises of the day, that people who sleep at night do not have to contend with.

Melatonin supplements

I knew very little about this actually, until I began this research. It seems melatonin supplements are used widely for a range of sleep related problems. In general, it is thought to be a very effective short term solution, for those with a body clock that is ‘out of sync’. I found two people who had direct experience of using these supplements, one being the owner of and the other being Tamsin Lewis, now a Professional Triathlete, previously a GB age group World Champion.

Sean tells me he uses his product ‘night bars’ as a late night snack to help him sleep well. They contain 1.5mg of melatonin, and he also uses them effectively to beat jet lag. He says that while taking melatonin his body clock has not really shifter, he doesn’t think, but he believes it helps him play better ice hockey games, which take place late at night.

Tamsin Lewis, a professional triathlete, says to combat jet lag she takes a melatonin supplement (as well as also taking a sedative, anti-histamine and vitamin B). She takes 6mg of melatonin, about 30 minutes before she goes to sleep. Her reason is that she says that our body produces melatonin late at night, naturally. Travelling across time zones disrupts its secretion, which causes jet lag. She is a doctor too, so I guess she knows what she is talking about!

Light therapy

This was by far the biggest response that I got when researching personal experiences. This is such a minefield area that I think it may even deserve its own research blog at a later date, as I do not have direct experience of using light therapy. Here is what the people who use light therapy have told me.

Everyone I have spoken to about light therapy report that they bought a Lumie Light. All said they bought it to try and combat the lack of light and tiredness associated with winter. In general it was felt that although very expensive, it was money well spent. Comments related to how well it worked came from a range of people, men and women, of a variety of ages. All participate in sport, one is legally blind. This is what they said:

  • Always wakes feeling refreshed no matter what time of day it is.
  • Usually wake up around 15 minutes before full ‘sunrise’ and feel that they are more awake than before they used it.
  • Prefer to be woken up naturally. (More than one person said this.)
  • Lumie lights are great at managing the transitions between being sleep and awake, rather than helping you actually sleep.
  • Works great at aiding sleep, especially when stressed. (blind person)
  • I like the fact that I no longer have to experience the half-blinding sensation of turning on the light in the morning when you’ve stumbled across the bedroom in a bleary-eyed state and groped your way around the wall to find the bathroom light!
  • Being woken up gently sets me up for a much happier start to the day.

Lumie work with many organisations, including British swimming. They conducted some light therapy research, and 72% of those in the sample felt that light therapy had a significant effect when using it as a morning body clock. 4 sample comments from the research, included in some literature that Lumie sent me, also state that they feel that waking up gradually is much more beneficial.

You can read much more research into this topic, by visiting the Lumie Lights web site.

Advice from the Professionals: How to deal with Jet lag:

Here are the top tips to combat jet lag, from Tamsin Lewis, Professional triathlete (GB age group world champion, 2009) and Shelly Rudman, Team GB Skeleton Luger, (European champion 2009 and World cup silver medallist, 2010)

  • Set your clock to the arrival time zone when you get on the flight.
  • Stay awake,
  • Eat a big meal on arrival
  • Don’t go to bed until after 8pm
  • Get out and get some daylight.
  • Light exercise.
  • Eat plenty of water- based fruits. (It normalises bowel function & flight induced fluid retention)

Circadian rhythm has turned out to be a fascinating topic, look out for further research, and possibly personal trials of some of these ideas.

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