We have had the least trouble with jet lag when we:
-were well rested and unhurried at departure (which rarely happens)
-departed and arrived during 'business hours'
-flew a direct flight between the US and Europe
-took connecting flights a day or more later
-made getting the maximum amount of sleep the priority, regardless of the time of day
-drank a lot of water en route
-used no caffeine or alcohol en route
-took Benadryl (25mg diphenylhydramine) as a mild sleep aid as needed
-got sunlight exposure as often as we could at our destination
We have also tried using the following with little
-"No Jet Lag" tablets
-melatonin at several different doses and timetables
-acupressure (finger pressure on acupuncture points) en route
-following a strict regime for sunlight exposure
-only sleeping at times appropriate for the new time zone
We haven't tried using:
-barbiturates as sleep aids (classic sleeping pills)
-special diet regimes
Jet lag is a huge problem for us. Traveling from the West Coast of the US
translates into at least a 9 hour time zone difference when flying to and from
Europe and one year it was an 11 hour difference when we landed in Greece as
they had switched to Daylight Savings Time. My very authoritarian biologic
clock is perturbed by the one-hour time change on or off Daylight Savings Time
or by the 3 hour difference when traveling to the East Coast of the US. The general
rule is that at best one needs one day of adjustment for every hour of time
zone change, though I often find I need at least double that amount of time to
regain really clear thinking. At my worst, I felt like I had a mild case of the
flu for an entire 2 week trip to Europe--symptoms which suddenly resolved as soon as
we returned home.
Our very best experience with jet lag was after our March 2005 flight to Europe. We happened to hit all of the above criteria on the first list above plus spent about 15 hours in bed our first night in Europe. We had landed about 11 am in Frankfurt and took an early afternoon train to our Ibis Hotel in Koblenz (Frankfurt was fully booked for a convention). The bright sun and warm day made it easy to stay awake while we strolled the city and did a little grocery shopping. We had the equivalent of sandwiches in our room for dinner and went to bed at 9 after long hot showers. We had selected an Ibis Hotel as they always have great beds, heavy curtains to block the light and good soundproofing in the rooms (double paned windows and carpets in the rooms and halls to decrease the clatter.) We arranged for a 4 pm check-out time the next day and hung out the "Do Not Disturb" sign.
We both slept well until about 1:30 am, which is typical for us when dealing with a big time zone change. After a several hour struggle to get back to sleep, I popped a Benadryl and Bill sat in a small hallway between double doors in our room to read. I luckily snoozed away and Bill read for several hours. About 8 am Bill was getting sleepy again and his first impulse was to stay awake for the rest of the day. We realized that it was 11pm for our West Coast biological clocks and that we both would likely be able to sleep because it was bedtime for our internal clocks. Back to bed and amazingly, we both slept until after 1pm.
That was a lifetime record snooze for me. We managed to get outside for a few hours of daylight to help reset our biological clocks and our 7:30 pm flight to Spain kept us up late enough that we were able to sleep when we tumbled into bed at 12:30am. After this experience, we will make having a quiet room for our first night a top priority and arrange for either a late check-out or a 2 night stay so we can sleep as many hours as we can muster.
Getting the best airfare prices had resulted in us taking our trans-Atlantic and trans-Europe flights on separate days but in hindsight we think it helped our jet lag recovery. Being rested before flying seems to help our bodies recover from the physiological stresses and getting a good night's sleep between the 2 flights sure felt better. When we boarded the second flight on the second day, we could feel the comfort in our bodies from having slept and gotten some exercise and fresh air between the 2 flights. We could tell that we were rejuvenated and weren't making the second flight on our own 'reserve tank' and believe that not getting so depleted helped our overall jet lag recovery.
Sharing a room when trying to get enough sleep with jet lag adds to the challenges. Sometimes it is best to get out of bed and read if one isn't sleeping but not at the expense of the other sleeper's precious REM time. Now we always get a room with a private bath for the first few nights of our stay in Europe. The bathroom provides a space where one person can read in the wee hours without disturbing the other. Before we go to bed at night, we each line up some warm clothes, reading material and a chair if possible in the bathroom so as to disturb the other as little as possible when taking a break from sleeping. Often an hour or 2 of reading or writing will be enough to coax the Sandman back for a second sleeping session. The trick of course is to allow at least a 10 hour block of time to snare 8 hours of sleep.
For the first week after arrival in our new time zone, getting enough sleep is our top priority. That usually means going to bed early, getting up late, and anticipating a few sleepless hours in the middle of the night. We go to bed with 1 or 2 Benadryl tablets, a glass of water, and a watch on the nightstand and have agreed on a time to get out of bed in the morning. We don't take a Benadryl if we awaken fewer than 4 hours before the alarm goes off to minimize drowsiness when we are trying to wake up. Benadryl is an antihistamine that happens to make people drowsy but doesn't knock you out though it is often enough to tip the balance when teetering on the edge of nodding off. We don't even bother with the Benadryl if we are wide awake but read instead.
We do find that the unpleasant fuzzy-headed feeling of jet lag resolves before our sleep cycle completely settles down. Even a week or 2 after making the time zone leap, we are still struggling with sleep disruptions. The best strategy we've come up with is to continue allowing 10-11 hours to get 8 hours of sleep, knowing that there will be some restless hours. We are also beginning to experiment with a small alcoholic nightcap at bedtime when we are still having a little trouble falling asleep 2 weeks after our flight and it seems to be helping.
That's what we've learned the hard way about recovering from jet lag and would love to hear your tips for reprogramming one's sleep cycle.
We did well in 2005 with jet lag and even better on our return to Europe in 2006. Our 2006 experience underscored the importance of rest and stress reduction. I now believe that for me the key to jet lag recovery is in keeping the stress and distraction level low. That means being super organized in the last week before departure so the tension level is very low. It also means that I will not start the overseas journey with a sleep deficit.
For me, getting enough sleep, not synchronizing to the new time, is the key. If I can get enough sleep then I feel better and feeling better and being able to think clearly is the objective. Getting synchronized to the new time takes care of itself if I get enough rest.
I now believe that the barrier to getting enough sleep during the first week in the new time zone is the lightness of the sleep. I am sleeping at the wrong time of day, so the sleep quality is lower and almost any distraction will chop up my sleep. We like the Ibis Hotels for jet lag recovery as they foster good quality sleep with their comfortable mattresses, relatively soundproofed rooms, and good curtains for light control. Minimizing the environmental distractions to sleep, like noise, bright lights and lumpy beds, is the first step.
The other distractions that need controlling can be harder to tame and those are the ones originating from our bodies. Muscle tension, mind chatter, and anxiety can all shatter fragile sleep. Assembling a tool box of relaxation skills before you travel can be a huge help in repairing disrupted sleep. I dusted off some old techniques to use at bedtime, like using deep muscle contractions to dissipate body tension and meditation to quiet my mind. I also photocopied a few acupressure points for insomnia from a book I had. Those techniques combined with old standards like manipulating the breath so the exhale is longer than the inhale and sequencing counting backwards with the breath all helped to keep the mind and the body quiet so even shallow waves of sleep could be benefical.
While I focused on quieting my inner and outer worlds to support my sleep, Bill tried 'Lunesta,' a prescription sleeping pill. He was disappointed to discover that it was a "knock pill" but that it only worked if he was supporting sleep as I was doing. But it did help him through his worst nights without making him drowsy. He did have to take 3 mg instead of going with the