Walk like Stevie Wonder and other advice for managing jet lag

Every good story needs a villain.  The villain of my own life story is insomnia.  As someone eager to be the hero of her own story, I battle against insomnia with a combination of protestant work ethic and desperation.  During the past two years I’ve consulted four doctors, completed a 12 week sleeping class, taken three prescription medications, tried acupressure, light therapy, a weird diet that involved eating a potato before bed, yoga, progressive relaxation, and a variety of herbal preparations and dietary supplements. Most of these approaches were depressingly ineffective and pricey.  One bright note?  I’m now quite the expert on coping with sleep deprivation and as a frequent traveler, on managing jet lag.

Jet leg is a good problem to have: if you have it, it means you are lucky enough to be travelling.  Furthermore, unlike the chronic insomnia I battle nighly, it’s temporary.  That said, it feels crappy and it can diminish the quality of your travel experience.  (Before I share my tried and true jet lag coping tips, I feel obliged to insert the usual caveat about how I’m not a doctor, how you should talk to your doctor, blah blah blah, but you know what?  Doctors have been mainly been good for charging me large co-pays and sending me home with pills they warn are dangerous, so screw that).

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That’s me, the hero, Saint George slaying the dragon jet lag .  You, dear reader, are the princess.  I must say you look lovely in red.

  • Use a jet lag calculator.  A quick search of google will show you a variety of these calculators.  You plug in your stats (when, where and what times you’re traveling) and a custom schedule pops up, advising you the best times to take melatonin, sleep, and seek bright light, often beginning several days before your actual trip.  Some of the advice is impractical—just do your best to follow it.
  • About melatonin: you’re probably taking too much.  Don’t think of melatonin as a sleeping pill.  It’s really more of a hormone that nudges your internal clock, telling your circadian rhythm that it’s time to sleep.  A 500 mcg (0.5mg) dose is enough.
  • Can you sleep on an airplane?  If so, I congratulate you.  Sleep away but once you land, don’t even think about napping.  Keep going until it’s an acceptable, if early, bed time at your destination.
  • Fresh air and sun are your friends.  Get out into them to reset your clock ASAP.
  • You’re probably going to wake up in the middle of the night for a couple of days.  Have a plan to deal with night awakenings—you should have snacks in your room and a reading light.  Don’t freak out!  Just get out of bed and have a munch or read a bit until you’re really sleepy, then go back to bed.
  • Keep your watch on local time and try not to think about what time it is at home.

So that’s my basic catch-all advice.  Hard core jet lag suffers and frequent travelers read on, ’cause I’ve go what you’ve been waiting for: PILLS:

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  • Actually one of these supplements is a powder.  Natural Calm is powdered magnesium and it works.  While not a sedative, it helps me feel relaxed and it improves the quality (if not, unfortunately, the quantity) of my scant time asleep.  You could take it on the airplane to relax, or in your hotel at bedtime.  Again, this is not a miracle cure but it’s the most effective of all the bazillion supplements I’ve tried.  (Don’t worry—it’s also sold in packets so you don’t have to schlepp the giant canister).
  • Theanine and Glycine.  These are amino acids that help improve sleep quality.  These pills are not sedatives either, but they seem to help me feel more rested during the day and if your jet lag is truly awful, they are worth a try.
  • Ambien, aka the only thing that actually makes me sleep.  My doctor tells me it’s bad news to take these for a long time, yet she keeps refilling my prescription.  If supplements don’t do it for you alone, taking Ambien short term may help you too.

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My doctor also prescribed a special blue light to help with insomnia   While the light did not cure my insomnia, it turns out to be great for jet lag.  Whenever I return from a trip (coming from East to West) I turn into a zombie by late afternoon and want to hit the sack way too early.  Blasting this light helps keep me awake and to reset my internal clock faster.  Regrettably, it’s quite expensive (and you know I’m a cheapskate, right?) so you probably don’t want to invest in the therapy light unless you’re very frequent traveler.

The number one best way to deal with jet lag is to accept it as part of your travel experience.  Like I said, jet lag is a good problem to have, so try to have a positive attitude, even when you’re at your dizziest and most droopy-eyed.   Actually, jet lag can even be fun when traveling with a friend.  HOB and I invariably go through a stoned and giggly phase after arriving in a new time zone.  You know how Stevie Wonder plays piano, face tilted to the sky, nodding back and forth and looking all blissed-out?  stevie This is HOB walks around toward the end of his jet lag day, much to my entertainment.  Don’t try this at home, kids, unless you too have a sober friend or spouse to keep your jet lag-stoned self from walking straight out into traffic.

Do me a favor, hit me up with your best jet lag advice or any effective way you’ve found for dealing with sleep deprivation.  I would really appreciate the help in slaying this nasty beast called insomnia.  Thanks in advance.

17 comments

  1. I don’t have insomnia but I cannot sleep on planes and NZ to Europe, 24hours flying plus is sickeningly awful, and I have jet lag both ends with waking at 3am whereever I am for days and sometimes weeks after, I so relate to the advise in your post, acceptance, it is the key to everything challenging in life, heres a local New Zealand prize winner for assisting with sleep, https://sleepdrops.co.nz/.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh andreapollard that does sound truly awful! Ironically, I’m responding to your post at exactly 3 am…..

    I searched google for sleepdrops but they don’t seem to be for sale outside New Zealand. I’m glad to here there something that provides you with a bit of relief. Perhaps you could try light therapy?

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  3. Thanks for listing all the expensive fixes that didn’t work! I won’t try them. I keep a couple of slightly boring videos on my iPad for middle of the night and try to make myself stay awake–invariably fall asleep. Sleeping on plane? No! On the extremely rare occasions when I’ve been upgraded, I don’t really sleep anyway. So I would definitely not spend the extra money for the front of the plane. For me, a trip seems to reset my sleep clock at homeland I sleep better for months. Now I am not really recommending getting older, but I have to say that my insomnia is getting better the more candles I have on my cake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s funny–I do the same thing but with boring novels. Boring media = the new Ambien!

      Most women have the opposite problem of sleeping worse as they get older, so count yourself fortunate on that point.

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  4. Sorry for the autocorrect–of course I meant I sleep better at home, not homeland!

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  5. I do agree that Ambien is amazing but for me I think it only pushes back the issue. I take Ambien for a few days and I feel great but then I stop and seems like jetlag is back. 😕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That true, because it doesn’t do anything to change your circadian rhythm, which is what’s causing jet lag.

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  6. I love traveling, and most of my flights are about 13hours between stops, I found that the minute you board the plane, just try to get some sleep. it always works with me, I can fall a sleep right away without realising that the plane has taken off. my last trip was from NZ to London. When I got to London I just drop off my bag and I was out doing things. I feel that booking a flight, to fly out late at night like 1am depart time, might help to put people to sleep after boarding. That’s just my thought anyway. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I prefer to depart at night too–those are the easiest to rest on, but 13 hours, yikes!

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  7. It’s true, jet lag can be your friend. On a recent trip to Canada we landed at lunchtime (local time) and were asleep by 9pm (2am home time). This meant we woke really early, perhaps not helped by sleeping in a tent, but as a result we got to enjoy a drive along a deserted Niagara parkway and to take a boat to the falls with only 8 other people rather than 800. It can also be awful, same trip 4hrs after landing, we accidentally left Canada at Fort Erie due to sleep deprived navigation, but that’s another story….

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    1. I love to take an early morning walk on my full day on a trip–your absolutely right about jet lag being your friend at those times!

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  8. So far, crossing fingers, I haven’t had jet lag.
    My husband thinks it is down to having had years of disturbed sleep when he was very ill – catching a nap whatever the hour…but whatever it is I just get off the ‘plane and get on with whatever I’m supposed to be doing.

    That’s not to say that I don’t get tired – I do, but it doesn’t affect my sleep patterns. Daylight, I’m up…night time..I sleep.

    I nap in the ‘plane, but no more…and if the person beside me is active, not even that.

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    1. Helen, I am so jealous of you! Sorry you had to become such a great sleeper from your hubby being ill though….

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Eugh, jet lag. I hate it. Coming back to France always wipes me out for days (the other direction is always easier). I like your take on it though—next time I’ll try to think of it as the sign of a well-traveled life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to tell me co-workers that, the next time I come back to work the day after a trip and I’m dumb as a door nail “Hey guys, it’s a sign of my well-traveled life!”

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  10. I think I’ve tried everything there is to help me sleep on a plane which I can’t seem to do. I am under the impression that if I could sleep the 6 or 7 hours it takes to fly across the pond, my jet lag would not be as horrific as it is. Of course being jammed in a 24 inch wide space with a barely reclining seat (I’m cheap too!) and no leg room doesn’t help!

    The last few times I’ve flown overseas, after years of following the widely accepted advice of not drinking alcohol because of it’s dehydrating effects, I’ve taken to drinking a couple of drinks (I bring the 2 little mini bottles of vodka on the plan with me and save $12 – again I’m really cheap!) along with taking tryptophen and/or holy basil and/or a couple of my husband’s muscle relaxants and I find I have been getting like 2 hours of sleep. I usually get no sleep so it’s an improvement. And I use an eye mask, ear plugs and a neck pillow. I wear loose, comfy clothing and put fuzzy socks. And I use something called Ionic Fizz which is a magnesium supplement to help my legs which tend to get very jumpy.

    I agree – jet lag is a good problem to have – well-traveled life and all – but I sure would like to find that “magic bullet” to help me sleep!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Long live the cheap travelers!

      Thanks for the tips—actually, two hours of sleep on the plane sounds great to me. Alcohol doesn’t agree with me but I’ll look into the holy basil/tryptophan.

      How do you get vodka though TSA–do the little bottles fit in your quart liquids bag?

      Liked by 1 person

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