Have you ever suffered from jet lag? And, I do mean “suffered” rather than “experienced.”
While I have experienced tiredness and have gone to bed a little too early or too late on occasion after flying, I feel that today is truly my first experience suff-er-ing from jet lag.
First, what is jet lag really?
Simply, jet lag is a cluster of sleep-related problems that people often face when traveling quickly across time zones in a short period (like with flying west and east). Specifically, this sort of travel affects your circadian rhythms (i.e. you internal 24-hour body clock) that regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Symptoms of jet lag include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty waking up
- General tiredness
- Brain Fog
- Upset stomach/ irregular bowel movements
- Feeling “bad” / “off”
Is jet lag inevitable? Are we doomed to lose a day of adventure because of an altered sleep-wake schedule? Not necessarily, but the answer really depends on your body. If you are like me and your body wakes up at the same time every morning no matter how early or how late you go to bed, then, yeah, you’re going to have a harder time when it comes to jet lag. However, if you can fall asleep at the drop of hat and can easily go from six hours of sleep one night to ten hours the next, then you’ll probably adjust better to new schedules when traveling.
Although today I write this post to you feeling unwell and out of sorts, from my travels, I have generally found good ways to “beat” jetlag.
Flying west to east like from the U.S. to Europe, usually means an evening departure and an early morning landing. On such flights, I try to sleep on the plane and have a habit of bringing my own neck-support pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs; and sometimes I take a mild sleep aid (like 1 gram of melatonin**). Upon landing in the morning, I go out, drink caffeine, NOT nap, and then go to sleep at an appropriate hour. With this method, I only feel tiredness on day 1 and am totally functional after then. When one does not adjust to the time difference flying west to east (i.e. by taking excessive and/or prolonged naps during the day), one can have trouble falling asleep at night and risk sleeping half the day away.
Flying east to west like from Boston to Hawaii, for example, usually means take off in the morning or and arrival in the late afternoon on the same day. These flights can be particularly challenging, because they can mean a 30+ hour day for you. Because I am not great with prolonged periods of wakefulness, I try my best to take a short nap somewhere during the long flight, drink coffee, and stay awake for as long as possible and then, attempt to fall asleep at a normal time.
On the day of my arrival, I felt absolutely exhausted. Because my internal body clock was still operating six hours ahead, I felt as if my metabolism had already shut down and went into sleep mode by the dinner hour in the U.S.. I was so stupidly exhausted that I felt low-grade nausea for a few hours before I eventually crashed and feel asleep at 8:30pm. Then, I woke up at 2:24 am (which would be 8:24am Germany time), and I absolutely COULD NOT fall back asleep. My internal body clock woke up and I didn’t feel tired at all, just super hungry, and generally unwell.
Somehow, I managed to stay up all day (!!!) and seemed to feel hunger and tiredness at the European times (eating breakfast at 4:45am, for example). By 5pm, I could feel my body transitioning into sleep mode with decreased metabolic activity and profound tiredness. On this night, I managed to make it to 9:30pm before collapsing into bed.
That night I unnervingly woke up at 2:33 am and felt zero percent tired although I had only managed five hours of sleep. After tossing and turning for 45 minutes, I decided to take a melatonin** tablet (which kicked in almost instantly and brought on waves of sleep). I woke up at 6:30am (a normal enough time), but felt totally off (like my body clock was disturbed) and got a migraine like an hour later.
It really amazes me that I required a full two days to recover from jet lag! If I hadn’t just fully recovered from COVID (more here), I may have suspected that there was more to my suffering.
As a side note, I told my jet lag tale of woe to my mother and her response was basically — you’re getting older. Gee, thanks!
For all of you who enjoy traveling, let my unfortunate experience serve as a warning — try not to schedule a full day of work/ activities immediately after your return from an international trip. Your body could use the rest.
Wishing you well.
**I’m no doctor (quelle surprise). As with all supplements — don’t take some random blogger’s word for it! Speak with your doctor!!