Helpline Question of the Month: How Can I Avoid Jet Lag?
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When traveling across the globe, nothing wastes a full day of exploring like a five-hour nap due to jet lag. Is it possible to adapt to local time and stay awake once you arrive? Ken is looking for a jet-lag remedy and hopes for some suggestions from fellow travelers.
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"I'm flying from Boston to Paris on Sunday. I can seldom sleep on flights and I always suffer from jet lag. Are there any methods that folks here have actually tried and worked well? I know to avoid coffee or alcohol while in flight. I'm thinking of taking Arnica or some other homeopathic remedy, though I'm unsure if such remedies work. I would be extremely grateful for suggestions."
This subject has gotten quite a bit of discussion here. Everyone is different. What works for one person probably will not work for another. Homeopathic compounds help some people. Personally, I used to use Scotch whisky before the liquids had to be put in small containers. A good glass of whisky would help me sleep on the plane.
I think as a person travels more, the problem of jet lag decreases. Whatever you decide to use you should try out before you get on the plane, like a week before, so you can see what it does to you.
Right. Try it a week before. Very fine idea and I agree with it. But I can't because I'm flying in two days. I know Rick Steves is big on Ambien, so I may well try that. My only concern would be if I'm sleeping I won't be able to keep drinking water. Hmm, I can just gulp a lot when I awake.
Los Angeles, CA
Boston to Paris?! Piece of cake. Try my usual LAX to Europe night flights. Personally, two Tylenol PMs do the trick (you could probably get by with one capsule). That's after drinking water, using the restroom, walking around the cabin, listening to some chapters of a book on tape, listening to some classic music, and out I go. I wake for breakfast, get up, stretch, walk around the cabin of the plane again, go to the restroom to freshen up, drink coffee and water, and I'm ready for the adventure that awaits.
Ken, there's a lesson here: plan ahead. Before I would take Ambien, Lunesta, or any of that stuff, the first thing I would do is a little computer research on the drug(s). You might well be a person who would sleepwalk in the middle of the flight, go back to the galley, and order a hamburger. Don't laugh, this is serious stuff.
I was really hoping to sleepwalk and fly the plane. Perhaps Tylenol PM would be a wiser, lower-tech approach.
Let's remember jet lag is not the same as travel fatigue, but of course they piggyback.
I fly from the West Coast like Claudia, and yes, those extra couple of time zones can screw a person up. I find it helps to set my watch to local time the minute I get on the plane and try and live like it is that time. So I eat a light meal (since I don't eat a heavy meal in the middle of the night normally), drink water, use the washroom, take my drugs of choice, and try to sleep for 4-5 hours (it's the best I can do). Then when I arrive, I force myself to live on local time (no nap, but an early night), with a very light afternoon planned: just some walking about in the daylight, trying to reset my poor, screwed up body clock. I personally find jet lag much worse as I age. I don't remember having it at when I was younger.
I agree with the others about taking Tylenol PM and not Ambien, especially on a plane. Also, bring a sleep mask, earplugs, and most important of all, one of those sleep pillows that goes around your neck so your head can just rest and not be jarred awake when it falls. This allows your neck to relax so you can doze. As long as my eyes, ears, and neck are taken care of, the rest is a piece of cake. I eat and drink everything. Jet lag has practically disappeared over the years. I'm tired the first day, but adjusted by the second. It's only six hours difference.
BOS-CDG is the best route you can get from the US; it's practically a local bus. Enjoy and remember Claudia on her long, over-the-pole haul and those of us in the middle of the country who have three-hour flights before we can even switch planes to our European-bound flights in BOS.
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
Talk to your doctor, not a bunch of strangers on an Internet site who do not know your medical history and cannot physically examine you (but as you fly in two days, it may be a little late for that). Every medication, whether prescription, over-the-counter, or unregulated "supplement," has unique benefits and disadvantages. What is appropriate for one person may not be suitable for another.
As a previous poster noted, everyone here has their own routine that they have probably worked out through trial and error. I'll tell you what works for me, although it's anyone's guess if this will benefit you:
I take jet lag as a fact of life and I work around it. I give myself a dose of Ambien that I know will keep me asleep for most of the flight. This isn't so much to fight jet lag, but to kill time on the plane. I shower and take a 2-3 hour nap when I arrive. I expect to be tired most of the day, then I go to sleep at a reasonable hour and sleep a little later than normal the next day. I'm usually more or less adjusted by day two.
At this late date, I think it's foolish and dangerous to experiment with any drug on your flight, which is exactly what you'll be doing if you try any of the "remedies" suggested or contemplated. Boston to Paris? Come on, you should be able to handle that standing up (hey, in a few years, we'll probably all have to do that).
I recently suffered through a 10-hour flight in tight coach seats, with two screaming babies who started wailing before takeoff and never stopped for more than 10 seconds. Even with good ear plugs, a sleep mask, documentaries on the iPad, and soothing music on the iPod, I never even got close to nodding off, even though I had been awake for two days before we got on that plane.
Regardless of whether or not you're able to nod off on the flight, when you arrive, just try to stay awake until dark. Then sleep deeply and you'll wake up OK the next morning. Resist the urge to nap during the day. Stay up until dark again on the second day and you'll be fine.
East Coast to Western Europe is nothing. Try flying to Southeast Asia a few times and suddenly flights to Europe become short, easy hops.
I don't take anything to sleep. I am super sensitive to meds like Nyquil and Benadryl. After one tablet, I am out, but it takes about six hours. At our destination, we nap for about 2-3 hours and next day we are okay. By the third day, we have more energy.
I've flown to France many, many times and am no stranger to jet lag. Boston to CDG may be nothing to some, but it's something for me. Earplugs, sleep mask, and neck rest are at the ready. One thing I see mentioned here that surprises me is to take a nap up to three hours after you arrive. I always thought anything more than an hour or so was the kiss of death.
Santa Rosa, CA
I NEVER sleep on a flight, unfortunately. But, in May when we traveled, for the very first time I took an Ambien, but it did NOTHING. I was awake the entire time. On the way home, I took an anxiety pill and a Dramamine and slept for two hours. It was the first time ever in 20 years of travel that I got any sleep at all on a flight, and it felt wonderful. I don't recommend this necessarily, but it worked for me.
San Francisco, CA
If you feel this topic is one that warrants medical attention, consulting your doctor would erase your anxiety.
I agree that from the East Coast to Paris is a piece of cake. It's six hours with the wind at your back. That's the same duration as a flight from SFO or LAX to New York.
I try to book a flight that's going 10 hours direct to Paris or Frankfurt, if not London. That way, my sleep won't be disturbed. My suggestion is to lay off the pills, over-the-counter or otherwise. I've never taken these OTC pills to induce on a flight, except for No Jet Lag a couple of times (I dropped it after that). I'd rather stay awake than rely on a pill to induce sleeping. Just doze and fall asleep after the meal.
I'm not anxious about jet lag. I just don't like it and was wondering if there was a way to minimize it. I'll see how it goes.
Lots of things you read say to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Consider this in light of your normal habits. If you normally drink three cups of coffee a day (or three Diet Cokes), going cold turkey at 35,000 feet is going to give you a zinger of a headache and aggravate the jet lag. If you normally drink coffee in the morning, go ahead and have some on the plane when they serve breakfast. I think this actually helps convince my body it's "morning." If you normally have a nightcap, go ahead and have one before you go to sleep on the plane (don't overdo it, of course). Your body is probably used to it, and following your normal "bedtime" pattern will help you rest better (my dad swears by this). Drinking extra water will compensate for any accompanying dehydration.
Ann Arbor, MI
I've had many flights overseas and I would never sleep. So on a recent flight I purchased a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones, put on a movie I had seen before (so I wouldn't get caught up in the outcome) and in a few minutes I was asleep. It felt just like when I am home. If I am too exhausted to stay awake, I will try to doze outside when I arrive, like on a park bench, bus, or beach. If I were to go to bed for a nap, it would be all over. I even dozed during "Les Miz" in London, and by the next day I was right on track.
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