I’m sorry to foist this on you, but my experiment in preparing for a 7-hour time zone shift prior to our cruise is pretty much consuming my waking hours. And my sleeping hours, too, come to think of it.
This week was really rough on me. The good news is that I got into a rhythm of waking up at 4am as opposed to my normal 7:30am routine. But that was leaving me sluggish and pretty much wiped out during the day, even when I took a nap around noon.
It really had me perplexed because it was only 12 years ago that, following my first wife’s passing, I was on a regular schedule that had me getting up at 4:30am, working out on a treadmill and weight machine in my basement for an hour before showering and going to work. And I would feel physically fine and cognitively alert the whole morning (I had to be as I was a clinical psychologist on an acute care inpatient unit). Then I would take a nap in my office at noon and finish out the day, even putting in an extra hour or two at times.
So why was this so difficult? It appears that our circadian rhythms get a little cranky and less flexible as we age, but I didn’t think the difference between being 59 and 71 would have such a dramatic effect. Apparently, it does on me.
My new routine has me waking up at 4am and immediately walking for half an hour at a brisk pace. I moved my workout to first thing after waking up because I found I was too tired later on in the day to convince myself to do it.
Luckily for me, the new management company for our apartment building is renovating. They are painting the hallways a lighter color and changing the lighting so that it is like daylight out there…and early morning light is exactly what is called for when trying to fool your sleep-wake system into re-setting itself.
So my morning exercise of walking the halls (where 1 lap around is about 200 yards) is serving a dual purpose. If the hallways weren’t so fortuitously bright, I’d probably have to buy a light box and sit in front of it for a while after waking up. Thank goodness I lucked out and avoided that fate!
After my walk, I sit down with my computer, turn the brightness up full, and do The New York Times crossword puzzle, Spelling Bee, Wordle and Nerdle. It’s about then that Sally wakes up and I make her coffee and my tea to initiate our normal morning ritual. By then, the sky is starting to brighten and it feels like things are almost back to normal.
Sally is not all that enthusiastic about my attempt to prepare my body for Athens. Her natural rhythms would have her going to sleep around midnight, but she also likes to go to bed when I do, so my new hours have thrown a major monkey wrench into her routine. She reminds me that we went to Paris a few years back (6-hour time difference) and really didn’t do anything to fend off jet lag and neither of us can recall any severe effects. She has a point.
By 11am, I’m getting groggy and thinking about taking a nap. It takes me a while to appreciate the fact that I’ve already been up for 7 hours and I’ve worked out, so napping at 11am isn’t such an off-the-wall idea.
I’m eating dinner a little earlier than before (around 5:00pm instead of 6:30pm. After all, it’s not just your sleep but your hunger/digestive rhythms that need to adjust, as well.
Bedtime is the biggest problem. Early to bed means I can’t watch most of the Phillies games in the playoffs. Bummer! My compromise has been to get in bed around 9ish so I could at least watch a few innings. But that only left me the potential for 7 hours of sleep and, with the usual time it takes to fall asleep and the usual number of nighttime awakenings, I was only getting about 6 hours of actual sleep…and that just wasn’t enough for me, even with a mid-day nap.
So on Wednesday of this week, I moved my bedtime back to 8pm…and it worked like a charm! I got a good 7 hours of sleep and I felt fine the rest of the day. Now I know that I need to lock-in 8 hours in bed, no ifs, ands or buts!
As of today (Friday), I’ve got just 7 more days available to adjust. I’ve picked up half of the 7-hour transition I’ll be making, leaving a 3½-hour difference. I know I won’t be able to get all the way there, but I think I’d like to transition 1 more hour before we board the plane. That would be a 7pm bedtime and 3am awakening. Somehow, doing that never made it onto my bucket list!