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Long haul and jet lag - how you handle this?
Old 09-16-2013, 06:56 AM   #1
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Long haul and jet lag - how you handle this?

On a long haul flight (>13 hours), how do you pass the time and handle jet lag? When I was younger, I would not think about sleeping and just enjoy the inflight movies and deal with jet lag later. Now, I try to take my long haul flights at night. After around an hour on the plane, I will take a mild sleeping pill and try to sleep for around 6 hours and try to remain in sleeping mode longer. If sleep no longer comes, I get up and brush my teeth, wash my face as though it is morning and watch movies till breakfast is served. I find that this arrangement helps me to a lot to adjust to time difference and jet lag. Due to the sleeping pill, I don't take any of the free booze served on the plane.
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Old 09-16-2013, 07:05 AM   #2
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I "commuted" to London every other week for a year and a half. I would take a red-eye, eat before takeoff, take a half a sleeping pill and try to sleep as much as possible the whole flight. Korea a lot harder due to the longer time lag. The best that I could do was to get as much sleep as I could.
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Old 09-16-2013, 07:35 AM   #3
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Boeing did a study and found that it takes a day to adjust for each hour of time difference. And that has been my experience in going back and forth between the East Coast and Thailand which is a 12 hour difference. Nothing I did on the plane made any difference. What does make a difference is taking half an Ambien each night in the new location for the full two weeks until fully-adjusted. The result is that, even though I am jet-lagged and maybe have no appetite, I am not exhausted from being unable to sleep at night.
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Old 09-16-2013, 09:21 AM   #4
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There's no simple rule that works for every one. What I've found works the best is sleep when you're tired and accept that it takes a day or two to adjust your circadian rhythm. I've also found that those over the counter sleep pills at Walmart do work well, but don't necessarily make you feel rested after your sleep.
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Old 09-16-2013, 10:05 AM   #5
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Spent 20 years running from the East Cost to Japan/China every 6 weeks or so. No sooner got acclimated to one zone when it was time to go back.

What I found was Melatonin (start taking a few days ahead) coupled to an over the counter sleep aid washed down with a glass of wine or two en-route helped. An Ambien prescription also got me back on track quickly.

What I found was that every trip was a little different. Sometime, no lag, other times a week to adjust!

Here's a quote from William Gibson: "She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”
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Old 09-16-2013, 10:14 AM   #6
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I just did a 30 hour door-to-door home from Mongolia, and it took about 4 days for the sleep adjustment to work. I just roll with it, and try to get on the right schedule right away. When we were going east from London, it was while driving, so we acclimated each time pretty easily.

DH had a nonstop 14 hour from Tokyo to DC after dropping the bus at the port, so his was a shorter long-haul, but he's taking about the same amount of time to readjust to sleeping the right hours.

Never have taken the pills, but some of our teammates used the Melatonin during the trip--maybe it helped, I don't really know.
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Old 09-16-2013, 10:23 AM   #7
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Now that I am retired, I don't have to do any more long haul flights and don't intend to. I am particularly susceptible to jet lag and hate it. I see no reason to put myself through this modern form of torture now that the choice is my own.

When I was younger I did a lot of this because I had to for work or other reasons. I usually just napped lightly and briefly on the flight, as needed. For example, on an all night flight I might nap lightly for a couple of hours. Mostly I would just stay up and read, do puzzles, or whatever seemed like it might help me to pass the time.

Long flights are bad enough, but the two or three days after reaching my destination was even harder for me, until I could get my sleeping patterns synchronized with local time. I don't know if this is the best way to deal with it, but I refrained from sleeping during the daytime at all and remained sleep deprived until I could sleep at nighttime in the new location. Generally I was about 1000 times crabbier than with PMS and was not a happy camper for a few days.
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Old 09-16-2013, 10:29 AM   #8
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I envy those who can sleep many hours on the plane without any medicine or alcohol. I have travelled with a few who are like that. I think it is in their genes.
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Old 09-16-2013, 12:36 PM   #9
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I have always suffered greatly from jet lag. I can't seem to fall asleep aloft and usually have amused myself by reading or doing crosswords to while away the hours. I used to use some pills developed by flight attendants or some such that were supposed to help with jet lag.

Just prior to a UK trip last yar, I ran across this article in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/tr...anted=all&_r=0

This excerpt about resetting our circadian rhythms caught my eye. I've bolded a portion for emphasis.

"2. Schedule when to expose yourself to light and when to avoid it.
It takes about a day to shift one time zone, said Dr. Smith L. Johnston, a flight surgeon and the chief of the fatigue management team at NASA. To do it faster, you must regulate your exposure to light — both natural and artificial — and darkness. Yes, there are all kinds of jet-lag cure-alls on the market, but experts say that since light is the primary environmental cue telling your body’s clock when to sleep and when to wake, controlling jet lag is fundamentally about controlling light and darkness.
With that in mind, here are the general guidelines: if you are traveling east, you must expose yourself to light early, advancing your body clock so that it will be in sync with the new time zone. Conversely, if traveling west, you should expose yourself to light at dusk and the early part of the evening, delaying your body clock so that it will be in sync with the new time zone.
This may be best understood with an example. Let’s say that at 7 p.m. you board a plane in New York that is scheduled to arrive in London at 7 a.m. local time (when it’s 2 a.m. in New York). You’re traveling east, which means you need to advance your internal clock toward London time. To do that, avoid any kind of light during the flight because the exposure will delay your body clock rather than advance it. An obvious (albeit odd) way to accomplish this is to wear sunglasses in the plane. That’s what Professor Lockley and his colleagues do despite the fact that they are flying at night. “People think you’re a rock star,” he said.
Typically, when travelers arrive in London at 7 a.m. they attempt to get on the new time zone right away. “Which is exactly the wrong thing,” Professor Lockley said, because your internal clock is still set to New York time, and trying to adjust too quickly will only exhaust you. What you need to do is to ease yourself into the new time zone by consciously manipulating your exposure to light. So keep those sunglasses on.
“I’m the only person wearing sunglasses at Heathrow,” said Professor Lockley, who, in the London example, would recommend wearing sunglasses for the entire flight, and once off the plane, until 11 a.m. London time (6 a.m. New York time). Throughout the rest of the day, seeing light will help you to be more alert and to reset your internal clock to local London time. (For those who want to get granular, the new book “Sleep: A Very Short Introduction,” which Professor Lockley co-authored, provides details about which hours of the day exposing yourself to light or darkness will be most beneficial to overcoming jet lag.)
If you are able to sleep during the flight, even better. Astronauts and mission-control personnel have used eye masks, earplugs and sleep aids like Ambien to help them doze, Dr. Johnston said. But he cautioned travelers who want to take a sleeping pill to check with their doctor first and to avoid taking any medication with alcohol. Many airline passengers “just get drunk and pass out,” he said, underscoring that a hangover does nothing to alleviate jet lag.
Those who want to take synthetic melatonin because it might induce sleepiness during a flight should also consult a doctor first to find out if it is safe for them. Furthermore, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution, synthetic melatonin is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now, if you were to take a morning flight instead of an evening flight to London from New York, you would want to expose yourself to light throughout the flight (no need for sunglasses), as well as when you land in London, soaking up as much sun as possible all day. “You can have exactly the same trip but the advice is opposite depending on what time you’re taking the flight,” said Professor Lockley, who has also used these principles to help racehorses acclimate to new time zones. “Once you understand the timing issue you can go through that process for any trip.”"


I was on an evening flight to London, so based on this advice, I started wearing sunglasses in the Chicago airport at 6pm and on board the plane through dinner service. After that, I wore an eye mask when in my seat on the plane to reset my circadian clock (even though I didn't sleep, I figured it was sort of meditative ). And when I needed to leave my seat to use the lavatory, I wore sunglasses.

I was amazed at how much better I felt upon arrival (still a bit off my game, but nothing like I'd experienced in the past) and how much quicker my adjustment to local time was. The friends I was visiting remarked on how well I did with adjusting to local time compared to the many house guests they'd had for the prior 2 years.

I know I will be using this method on all my future long-distance flights.

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Old 09-16-2013, 12:42 PM   #10
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Drugs. After working overseas for almost 30 years......drugs is what I finally settled on. I only made the trip from the West coast to (UK/Germany) once or twice yearly.....so I wasn't a regular commuter like some. My answer for jet lag in the last 10 years......the first 4 nights I went to the UK/Germany I took 3 Tylenol PM's.....sometimes 4 (or equiv) so I could force myself to sleep those first few nights. NO sleeping during the day. Got me back on track faster than not taking the meds. No trouble coming back to the US in that direction.
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Old 09-16-2013, 01:03 PM   #11
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I generally cannot sleep on a plane. I tried drugs a couple of times with no effect. I've been on a lot of long flights, and I always try to live in the local time zone upon arrival, which is usually in the morning. I find that as long as I stay physically active, I can keep going. However, beginning in early afternoon, I start feeling lousy due to sleep deprivation. I usually go to sleep between 5pm & 7pm, local time. I typically sleep that first night for at least 12 hours, and once as long as 16 hours. When I finally get up the next day, I feel great and my body is fully on local time.
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Old 09-16-2013, 01:08 PM   #12
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I generally cannot sleep on a plane. I tried drugs a couple of times with no effect. I've been on a lot of long flights, and I always try to live in the local time zone upon arrival, which is usually in the morning. I find that as long as I stay physically active, I can keep going. However, beginning in early afternoon, I start feeling lousy due to sleep deprivation. I usually go to sleep between 5pm & 7pm, local time. I typically sleep that first night for at least 12 hours, and once as long as 16 hours. When I finally get up the next day, I feel great and my body is fully on local time.
I'm glad you wrote this because it'll save me the trouble! DITTO!

I can't sleep a wink on an airplane but DW usually falls asleep before we even take off. So I just keep myself busy with the iPad.
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Old 09-17-2013, 09:31 AM   #13
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Some things that might work:

Before flight: Drink a lot of water to become fully hydrated.

On flight:
1) Watch movies to keep mind occupied ... well sort of anyway
2) Get up frequently and use toilet
3) Stand around to relieve body stress of sitting so much
4) Keep on drinking water, coke, coffee

At destination (assuming several hours time zone shift):
1) Stay up until decent hour to go to bed
2) Take Ambien or equivalent

From the West Coast we have an 11 hour flight to Europe. Then we are 8 hours time shifted. The above seems to have worked OK but it still is a drag. We are likely not to travel too much in the future like this. Maybe the new Dreamliner Boeing model will have better pressurization and airflow to make the flight more comfortable -- hope so.
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Old 09-17-2013, 10:32 AM   #14
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During the last 11 years of my career, I think my wife thought I flew for a living. Japan->US->London->other points in Europe->Japan was about every 4-6 weeks, not to mention the intra-Asian flights nearly every week.

What worked best for me was to eat before getting on the plane, ambien (or your choice of sleep aid, I used melatonin before tinnitus stopped me from sleeping for over a week) as I stepped onto the plane, recline seat as soon as plane lifted off, sleep for 6+ hours, wake up, fiddle with the computer or read until landing, use whatever daylight I had left to go for a walk or a run, stay up as late as was reasonable (about 11-12), take an ambien and then go to bed. When my travels were constant and I did this, I did not suffer. When I had a break in my travels for too long, I would sometimes suffer for a day or two, but not too bad.

As an aside, now that I am retired and don't fly so often, my tinnitus, as well as my need to take ambien, have largely subsided.

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Old 09-17-2013, 05:43 PM   #15
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I have no problem taking the booze and sleeping pills to help with jet lag. I know, I know.. Not advisable for everyone but that's the truth, that's what I do..
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Originally Posted by Moscyn View Post
Due to the sleeping pill, I don't take any of the free booze served on the plane.
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Old 09-17-2013, 06:16 PM   #16
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I have no problem taking the booze and sleeping pills to help with jet lag. I know, I know.. Not advisable for everyone but that's the truth..
Doesn't the booze present a problem for some who cannot handle altitude easily? I think most cabins are pressurized to something like 6000 feet (from what I recall).

I generally avoid plane meals with a lot of meat for this reason.
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Old 09-17-2013, 07:35 PM   #17
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Before the flight ... switch time zones especially for your stomach. That is, change the time and what you eat to match the destination at least 24 hours in advance. Also stay up overnight at home so that you will want to sleep on the plane. Then sleep on the plane. Skip all meals on the plane, too.
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Old 09-17-2013, 11:29 PM   #18
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During the last 11 years of my career, I think my wife thought I flew for a living.
Well I did and could never figure it out. What I would have given for a 15 minute "combat nap" before descending and landing. I would do four N. Atlantic crossings in six days and was totally wiped out when I got home for at least two days. There were no rest breaks for a three-man cockpit. Not to worry because all cockpits today are two-man augmented by a third pilot so eveyone gets a two hour break.
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Old 09-18-2013, 04:03 AM   #19
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I live in Indonesia and have made over 100 round trips (30 hrs door-to-door) to and from northern California over the past 25 years. Here's what works for me. It doesn't matter what I do on the plane, I can eat, not eat, drink, not drink, take drugs, not take drugs, watch movies, read, sleep, not sleep. The key for me to not suffer from any jet lag is to make sure that I am good and exhausted when I get to my destination, stay up with no naps until 10pm or so, and then go to sleep. I always sleep through the night and wake up fresh the next morning. I may feel a little tired in the afternoon for a couple of days, but it is minor. The key is: no afternoon or evening naps. Go to bed at full bedtime in the new time zone. If I take a nap at 5pm the first day or two, then I will not sleep through the night and will want to sleep at 5pm for the next week, and my evenings will be miserable.

So I've found what works for me to avoid jet lag. I know almost no one else that this works for though. I think everyone needs to experiment and find what works best for themselves.
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Old 09-18-2013, 04:29 AM   #20
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I'm with the booze and sleeping pills school. I know you aren't supposed to mix them but I've survived up until now. I think I'm permanently jetlagged anyway due to rotational shift work but that's going to change Feb 17th 2014. Just saying.
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