The ability to travel to new locations is a well-known benefit of a locum tenens career, although not all locums need to travel across the country to reap the benefits of this career path. Many job openings are available in your home state, so you have more control over how far you are willing to travel (or not).
For locums that enjoy exploring all corners of the United States and our territories, frequent travel presents you with an opportunity to not only provide quality care to new patient populations, but also broaden your field knowledge in wildly diverse settings.
“Medicine is local. You totally see different ways of doing things for the same condition, and it does broaden your horizons,” said Dr. Neil B., a Virginia native and Barton Associates locum tenens physician with experience taking assignments cross-country in New Mexico.
While Cindy has experience travelling up and down the east coast (within the eastern time zone), a challenge for some locums is when their assignments are in a new time zone, like Dr. Neil. If Cindy were to take an assignment in sunny California, her eastern time zone rhythm would be shifted to the pacific time zone, disturbing her natural sleep cycle by three hours, similar to Dr. Neil’s jump from Virginia to New Mexico.
No matter the direction you’re travelling, getting a good night’s rest is an important aspect to staying healthy while on assignment. Yet, this simple task can be difficult to accomplish in an unfamiliar environment and region.
How a New Time Zone Affects Your Sleep
While the right hemisphere, or the right side of the brain, sleeps through the night, the left hemisphere, or the left part of the brain, remains vigilant in a new environment. In other words, half your brain stays alert throughout the night for protective purposes.
Scientists refer to this as the first-night effect, or FNE, but this struggle for sleep can last longer. If you frequently traveling across time zones for short assignments, this adaptive phase can affect your sleep quantity and quality. This, in turn, can lead to short- and long-term health consequences: impaired memory and judgment, reduced efficiency, increased risk of accidents and injuries, obesity, cardiovascular disease and even diabetes.
These short-term memory, efficiency and judgment-related consequences can prove detrimental in your workplace. They not only impact your health, safety and relationship with your new coworkers, but also the health and safety of your patients. So, what can you do about it?
If you find it difficult to adjust your sleep schedule when you arrive in a new time zone, you can set yourself up for success by developing a couple new habits. Here are some to consider for your next (or current!) assignment:
Adjust Before Departure
If your assignment is longer than a few days, adjusting to your new destination’s time zone before departure will help you adapt in advance.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a shifting of your bedtime and waking time, earlier or later, three to five days before your trip. If you’ll be traveling east, for instance, you can shift your bedtime and awakening time earlier for the recommended three to five days prior to departure, waking early to be asleep by 8 pm PST so you are prepared for an 11 pm EST bedtime. Think ahead, and choose waking and rest times that work in your schedule!
Cool Your Room
You might not have considered this before, but a cooler room may help you sleep better – and not just when you’re traveling for work.
Core body temperatures peak and decline on a daily basis, in connection with the body’s sleep-wake cycle. When your body temperature decreases (and cools), you’re more likely to fall asleep. Maintaining a cool room will help you to stay asleep, while a change in temperature will interfere with sleep quality.
The easiest way to cool your room is by adjusting your thermostat. The recommended room temperature for a good night’s sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for adults. Lower or higher temperatures can result in sleep disturbances.
You can also cool your room by using a ceiling or room fan, using dark curtains and breathable cotton sheets. Whether you prefer staying in a particular hotel because they have the best pillows or want a room that faces away from the sunrise (or set), Barton Associates takes care of all your travel requests and accommodations to set you up for a successful assignment.
Block Light Distractions
Blocking artificial light — especially blue light — is another habit you can practice for better sleep in a new time zone. These distractions can shine in through technological devices, LED lights, windows, lamps, alarm clocks and LED TVs.
So what? These artificial lights can alter the proper functioning of your body’s circadian rhythm and reach beyond affecting your sleep. Too much exposure to artificial instead of natural light can affect your daily thoughts, feelings, moods and overall performance.
To block out these light sources, consider powering off, dimming or avoiding your technological devices and television a couple hours prior to bedtime, so they don’t awaken your mind and hinder your sleep. You may also find it helpful to use dark curtains to darken your room or wear a light-blocking sleep mask.
If you have a daily wind-down routine when you’re at home, you understand the benefits of relaxing after a long and busy day at work. It helps you switch off. It helps you de-stress. It helps you recharge. Keeping to your normal routine brings a familiarity that will help you feel more comfortable. Maintain your routine in your new destination, and make this consistency a regular habit, no matter where your assignment is or where you’re sleeping at night.
You should practice consistency in your bedtime and awakening time. Consistency in your wind-down routine. Consistency in controlling your sleep environment through actions like cooling your room and blocking light distractions, even on your off days. But don’t think of consistency in perfectionist terms. If you maintain these habits for better sleep throughout the majority of your assignment, you’ll be in a better position to reap the benefits of sleep regularity.