There are many reasons why we get out of a routine: vacations, holidays, spring and summer break, and sometimes life's lovely curve balls. Wrapping up the end of summer while families slowly start getting back into their academic routine is probably the most jarring because the summers are so long. Have you ever noticed that while the first week back into normalcy can be refreshing, it's also tiring?
There's a part of our brain called the Hippocampus which is the control center for our circadian rhythms, essentially a 24 hour clock. It's where Melatonin is produced and has a direct communication from the stimulus in our eyes from light. For example, when it's daylight, the hippocampus suppresses melatonin which then stimulates another part of our brain to start the production of cortisol in our adrenals. It's the cortisol that tells us to wake up in the morning. Daylight, or lack thereof, triggers a complex response between our eyes, the brain, and the rest of our bodies. It's the external world impacting our body's "master clock" and that impacting a downstream clock within our body. The "master clock", mainly the hippocampus controls temperature, eating habits, and even hormonal fluctuations. So what happens when our routine is thrown off and we have to jump right back in?
Changes in routine throws off what we're doing with the downstream clock which then goes out of sync with the master clock. Do you ever notices that travel can cause constipation in many people? Or how exhausted you feel with a 1 hour time change during day light savings time? Research has shown the long term impacts on our health when our sleep schedule is off such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a weakened immune system. If we often change when we sleep, wake, and eat, we will disrupt the connection between the natural rhythm of our hippocampus and the rhythm of the rest of our body. The adrenals, a gland that produces cortisol and other signals to give us "energy", are directly impacted by the Hippocampus, too. There's an inverse relationship with cortisol and melatonin, as mentioned earlier, that when off can certainly contribute to poor sleep and daytime fatigue.
Luckily, getting back from a vacation or summer break isn't something that's occurring all the time so we'll have a milder impact on our bodies with a change in rhythm as opposed to those who travel for work, work night shifts, or have erratic schedules
To help you get back into a routine, below are some helpful tips to not disrupt the down stream clock. These tips will minimize the shock to the system and help you better adjust back into normalcy.
1. Sleep Schedule
I know it's a "Break" from normal but try your best to not sleep in every day of your holiday. Have a few sleep in days, for sure, but to minimize the shock to the system, try to wake up close to the time you normally do.
If kids are going back to school, try getting them back to their normal sleep routines 1 -2 weeks before school starts.
2. Keep your exercise schedule
Just because you're on holiday, doesn't mean you can a sack of potatoes and think getting back into will be easy. If you're anything like me, when it comes to exercise I can derail very easily. Do your best to find a run/walk route close to where you are staying. Most hotels have gyms in them or a pool. Use the resources you have around you but be sure to get out and move.
3. Eat more normal
We vacationers love to let ourselves go, don't we? "I don't normally eat this way but heck, I'm on vacation! Pass the good stuff..." Your on a break and it's totally fine to let yourself go but the more you do, the harder it will be to get back on track. There's a 80:20 rule where you stay good 80% of the time and let yourself enjoy whatever you want 20% of the time. Have fun but maybe not for every single meal on your break.
Hopefully you know understand a little about how a disrupted routine can impact not only the brain but also the metabolic rhythm of the body but also some things you can do to minimize the shock to the system.