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Jet lag

Everyone has a recipe for getting over jet lag. Food, timing of meals, entraining sleep before leaving [1], not eating on the plane, blah blah blah.

And believe me, I have suffered from the jet lag. I have read a shitload of books at 3 am, and faceplanted uncontrollably more than once in the cleanroom at 3pm. I have felt about as shitty after a week without more than two consecutive hours of sleep as I ever want to feel. As a result, sleep has gone from being something I could take or leave to being something I treasure. I don’t need a lot, but I want those six hours.

After I figured out this recipe, the last half-dozen trips have been fairly painless, even with a 10-12 hour time change.

Here’s what works for me, honed down after about three dozen flights to Europe, Asia, and Australia [2]:

  • Exercise – Get out and get tired. It helps if you can do this in the…
  • Sunlight – Obviously. For me, Greece or Spain is easier than Germany. But a gym works. Get a workout every day for the first few days.
  • Melatonin – Seems to help me. In any case it doesn’t seem to hurt.
  • Ambien – for the first two or three nights. IANAD [3]
  • Tension Tamer – Again, works for me. Reliably makes me nod off about 20 minutes after I take it, just about the same time the Ambien kicks in. So get those teeth brushed and get in bed.
  • Sleep mask – Get a good comfortable one.
  • Earplugs – if you are in a noisy place. Whatever brand works for you. You want to sleep through the night. Turn your damn phone off.
  • No booze – especially if you are taking a sleep aid like Ambien. I relax this later, but for the first few days, it just doesn’t help. Yeah, it’ll make me sleepy. But then I am wide awake at 0300, and there is nothing worse than that.

Screens don’t seem to make any difference to me, except in the sense of it’s better to unplug from the world for a while before you go to bed. iPad/airplane mode/reading is fine.

YMMV of course.


[1] This just seems like you are moving the pain to before you leave instead of after, if you are going to bed at 1800 before the trip, or fasting or whatever.

[2] So that’s about six dozen episodes of JL, if you are counting – coming and going. Yes, it is easier going west than east.

[3] I am a doctor, just not that kind of doctor. Ambien works for me. I’ve struggled with this. I am reluctant to take drugs, and I’ve been awake at 4 am lots of times looking at the bottle knowing it’s too late to take it now because I have to be at work at 7 am. Wishing 10pm me was smarter than 4am me.

Not everyone reacts well. I have heard all the takes on this – it’s not real sleep, it’s hallucinatory, it’s sleepwalking, sleepeating, sleepdriving. I have no evidence that I’m not sleepwalking when I take it, but I wake up eight hours later in bed in the same position I fell asleep, feeling refreshed. The fridge is still full. I’ve never taken it more than three days running – I’ve never needed to. Two nights in a row is usually good, then TTT and melatonin will do the trick by themselves.

But I don’t try to tough it out anymore. At 2200 local time, for the first two nights, I drink the tea, take the melatonin, and take the damn Ambien. 10 mg is pretty much a guaranteed eight hours of sleep. Eight hours of drug-induced fake sleep is way better than being exhausted.