Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Jet-lag #tbt

Despite that when I wrote this last year I ended with, “But unless there are ways of minimizing the impact of crossing time zones, I think my days of the five-day jaunt across the Atlantic are over,” here I am again in the UK for less than one week. I modified things a bit by trying something new: a day flight across the Atlantic instead of an overnight flight. Instead of arriving in London in the morning, I got to my hotel by 10:30 at night. Bedtime! Except my body didn’t feel quite ready yet. It’s an experiment that so far isn’t going all that well. Conference sessions start today. We’ll see if the adjustment period goes any better! Cheerio!

3 thoughts on “Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Jet-lag #tbt

  1. Hey Tracy! I’ve experimented with all the flights, all the combos, all the advice. I’ve tried day and night flights, sleep/no sleep upon arrival, eating when hungry vs eating at meal time in the new time zone, exercise and rest, etc. As you know, Toronto to London is a regular route for me that I do 3-4 times a year.

    I flew back to Toronto just a couple of days ago, I think possibly the day you landed. I have to say this trip (7 days for me) was my best ever jet lag experience, hands down. Your post prompted me to think about why.

    First, I took the 10pm flight from Toronto as I always do. I like boarding the plane at bedtime, getting a bit of rest (unsettled rest on a plane is, for me, not unlike unsettled rest at home, maybe with more noise – or so I tell myself), then landing late morning, getting into town for lunch, pushing through the afternoon and dinner, and hitting bed at 9-10pm. It’s worked fine in the past.

    This time, the flight was awful. MIDDLE SEAT. In premium economy no less (which, btw, negates the $600 upgrade cost, thanks much). I barely dosed. I kept waking from my dosing because my body ached, legs and arms pressing against metal bits and pieces of the seat. The woman next to me had a raging cold, too.

    When I got home to my friend’s flat at noon I ate, unpacked, and realized I had to nap. I normally advise no napping because it affects your ability to sleep on time in the new time zone – or so I’ve always believed. But this time I had no choice; I was dead on my feet. So I slept almost 2 hours, 1-3pm.

    When I woke up I realized I needed to move my body, both for its sake and in order to ensure I could be hungry and tired later on. So I went down to the south bank, starting at my favourite coffee shop to get some beans, and then walked along the river all the way home. It was a 10km walk, easily, and took me just over two hours (including a horrific but really well signed diversion around the largest construction site I’ve ever seen). Once home I cooked some food for me and my friend, and after we ate we watched a bit of TV. My friend’s an early riser so in bed by 9pm is normal; I stayed up a bit later, looking at stuff on my iPad, but was asleep before 11pm. I slept until 10am the next day.

    After that I was completely fine. Sleeping by midnight, awake by 8am – not necessarily by choice (I’m NOT an early riser, generally), but I did not want to throw the alarm out the window. Overall, I was back to normal.

    OK: longest comment ever. So, lessons.

    First, the nap did no damage whatsoever. In fact it might have helped! Often if I don’t nap I’ll sleep by 9-10 on the second travel day, for about 12 hours, and then I’ll have trouble sleeping before 1am or waking before 10am for the whole trip. I think the nap helped curb my sleep deficit enough to mitigate that problem.

    Second, the walk was a godsend. Light exercise on a sleep-deprived day is a very good thing – not taxing but rejuvenating: move body, see some of the city, breathe in fresh(ish) air. At least for me, and in this case, that’s exactly how it felt. I would do this combo – nap plus long walk or equivalent – again in a heartbeat, regardless of how the plane ride went, sleep-wise.

    Third, I know I’m in the minority here, but I really do not advocate day flights eastbound across the Atlantic. I’ve taken them and they don’t work for me precisely for the reason you note: when you land, say 9pm EST, it’s 3pm in Toronto. Good luck sleeping! Precisely because sleep is incredibly far away after a day flight (made worse if you nap in-flight, as airlines encourage you to do by dimming the lights and suspending service), I think it’s harder to adjust to the new time zone after a day flight.

    Anyway, my many, many cents. As you can tell, I think about jet lag endlessly. 🙂 I hope the conference goes well!


    1. Yeah. I’m like you. I only ever take overnight flights, sleep some, and then power through on the first day. The thing that saves me, I think, is that I don’t generally have difficulty getting to sleep. I sometimes wake at odd hours but I’m usually not sleep deprived. I’ve done some big flights (Toronto-Dunedin, NZ) for short visits (3 days!) and I think the distance to Europe is actually harder because you can not sleep on the plane and then you’re in trouble.

    2. Thanks for is this Kim. I probably won’t do that day flight again because I’ve never really settled. The marathon after an overnight and all day soldiering through usually sets me up for good sleep.

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