Comparing methods of dealing with jet lag is my gift to the world. I’m convinced that sleep is mystical and that what works for one person may not work for someone else. I’m somewhat less convinced that somewhere out there is the perfect method for me. Why quit trying, though?
What follows is a rundown of three methods of defraying the mental cost of jet lag.
The first time we came to Europe, we flew to Iceland to live in a tent. We didn’t sleep at all on the flight, thanks to a young family, the father of whom sat by himself on one side of the aisle refusing to help his wife deal with their children on the other, both of whom occupied themselves by continually kicking our seats.
Keep this in mind if you are jet lagged and trying desperately to stay awake. Simply find a place with seat-kicking children and they will gladly assist.
On the Iceland trip, we set up our tent in the morning and “took a nap,” which used almost our entire first day. This method is not recommended for adjusting to a new time zone seven hours away.
On our second trip, meeting in Hamburg, I decided to try pre-adjusting by going to bed half an hour earlier every night for two weeks. I relied on melatonin at the time, and it’s hard to tell how much of a factor that was. The night before I left, I had night terrors and woke up standing in my bathroom. I barely slept on the plane and was so tired I stood in the EU line at customs because I thought it stood for “Estados Unidos.” Then I couldn’t remember how to operate a turnstile. Went to bed and snapped awake at 2:00 AM for three hours.
But then, by the second night I was adjusted to local time.
That is the main thing to keep in mind about jet lag. It’s generally terrible on the first day, but if you eat meals at the local time and make yourself get up in the local morning, it basically goes away.
What happens if you try to stay on your home schedule for sleep and meals? I have no idea. I’ve never tried.
My motivation in travel is to see as much as I can see, and see everything I can’t experience at home. I want to look at nature in daylight and I want to visit attractions while they are open. Most things that are open at night, like theaters and clubs and bars and shopping centers, are basically the same as what we have at home, so it doesn’t pay to sleep through it.
On this trip, I followed my husband’s method. A frequent business traveler, jet lag is a persistent problem he can’t afford to have. He takes a Benadryl at local bedtime. Personally I don’t do well on Benadryl, so I tried Unisom.
Can I say, I think we’ve got it??
I took a Unisom at 6 PM my time on the plane and sort of slept lightly for six hours. We landed at noon local time. I didn’t feel all that tired or dopey and I was even able to navigate a turnstile.
These are the past travel mistakes that I did not make:
Did not leave my coat in the overhead bin and have to run back for it
Did not get yelled at by customs officials
Did not tell anyone the wrong airline and have them wait for me in the wrong terminal
Did not get on the wrong transportation heading the wrong direction
We were able to find our way through the airport, go through customs, find the Underground station, board a train, and make it all the way to our station without mishap. Then we got out on the wrong level and found ourselves out back by the service doors, and got redirected by some station employees.
“Are you lost?”
“If you’re talking to us, you’re lost. There’s no one else out here but us.”
We made it to the hotel and managed to resist the siren call of the mattress. We went out and walked around in the natural afternoon daylight until dinnertime. My husband, who had only slept four hours, was out cold before the clock struck eight. I made it another hour.
We both woke up at 9 AM local time, having slept at least twelve hours each. Feels like success.
That’s my new jet lag method. No more spending two weeks trying to adjust in advance. No more napping in the middle of the day. And if anyone else allows their children to kick our seats on the plane, we’re going to make them trade seats with us.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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