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Circadian rhythms are our built-in clock, responsible for keeping in time some basic functions of our body. They are centered in the hypothalamus of the brain and align us with earth’s twenty-four hours rotation cycles. Functions like sleep, feeding patterns, body temperature, brain wave activity and hormone release are programmed in accordance with the circadian rhythms. In this post, we will be focusing on sleep, and relating to our previous post, how changes in the circadian rhythms affect our melatonin and cortisol release.
The circadian clock is set via some receptors in the eye’s retina, sensitive to daylight, and a signal is sent to the hypothalamus via the optic nerve. For those that haven’t been exposed to daylight for some time, circadian rhythms are centered by their biological clock that works independently of daylight.
7 Tips for Efficient Sleeping
Now that you’ve read all these information, it is time to put them to good use. Some of you make trans-Atlantic flights and most definitely your circadian rhythms change. However, there are some ways to achieve ultimate rest from your sleep when you have the time.
- Normally we need seven to nine hours of sleep in order to be healthy and it is best to sleep in really dark conditions. As it was mentioned above, the receptors in the retina of our eye are very sensitive to light. Sleeping with any kind of light (even the small light from your PC) results in blockage of the neurochemistry in your brain. Thus, it is mandatory for you as a pilot, to sleep in darkness when you want to perform your best the next day. And when it’s time to get up from your bed, you should open your window and let the sun spread all over your face for five minutes. Neurochemistry will do all the work for you. It’s even better than coffee.
- It is good for you not to stare at a screen, e.g. at your laptop, two hours before you go to bed. That’s because staring at a screen, also blocks your melatonin release (due to the blue radiation of the screens). So, if you are having a rest in the crew’s room and you spend time in front of your laptop or phone, the quality of your sleep decreases and you can’t feel rested afterward. Just remember, when you have limited time for sleep, you need to spend it wisely. Another helpful thing to use, are some good apps (flux) for screens that change their brightness, resulting in more efficient sleeping since.
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- Consumption of adenosine’s antagonist, such as caffeine, is crucial to occur minimum three to five hours before you go to bed. Just remember that it’s not about if you are going to sleep but the quality of your sleep. There are a lot of people who can drink coffee and then fall asleep easily in the next thirty minutes. But they don’t get a ”good” sleep.
- Your body loves routine. As you like to eat at standard hours, you also like to sleep on the same schedule. Create a standard schedule of sleep for you. Try not to change your circadian rhythms. Even if you stay out until late, try the next morning to wake up early. It is better for you to have a short sleep of thirty minutes rather than waking up late.
- Avoid heavy meals before going to bed. Avoid exercise before sleep (4-6 hours prior) because exercise tends to increase your body’s temperature making it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Establish relaxing habits like writing or reading a book before going to bed. Also, you can buy melatonin supplements for better sleep.