DON’T PANIC, YOU’RE NOT GONNA DIE FROM LACK OF SLEEP, REALLY!!

Two most common Jet Lag Symptoms:

  1. During the day when you need to be awake, you will feel severe exhaustion, barely able to open your eyes. This is probably because around this time, you’re used to be asleep!
  2. Then, experiencing insomnia when you do need to sleep. On the contrary, this is usually the time when you’re awake.

For some reason, the body can’t seem to sleep when it’s not the right time, and make you feel tired even if you just had 6 hours of sleep, when you’re meant to be awake. It’s as if your signals are not wired properly, so even when you do sleep, you’re still tired and when you loose out on sleep, you still can’t get to bed when it’s not time yet.

My Personal Experiences

The first time I ever flew to the USA, I could not sleep for almost three days and never felt tired. I had no idea how that worked or I don’t even think I remember the whole experience, but recently I have just went through another cycle of jet lag, so I’m here to offer some tips on how to cope with jet lag.

It’s absolutely true what they say that flying to the East is much worse. Let me explain that when I flew from New York to Brisbane, I barely had problems. The only time I really had trouble sleeping was the first night, when I went to bed around 9pm and woke up at 5am. Even then, that was almost nothing because I felt that I had enough sleep. Every day after for about an entire week, I felt extremely tired by 8pm, could barely even open my eyes, so I’d go and sleep and wake up around 6am. The transition was particularly smooth! Now let me explain why this change didn’t affect me as much as it did flying back. This was because we were moving forward in time, not backwards. To explain it better, let’s say I usually go to bed at 1am in New Jersey time. That’s around 3pm in Brisbane time. So, being tired around 7-8pm makes sense because it was as if my body has stayed up later than it did, so naturally I felt more tired.

However, on the way back, it’s a completely different story. Let’s say my bedtime in Brisbane was around 10pm, but I suddenly arrive back in New Jersey time and it’s already 2am in the morning there but it’s only 4pm in Australia. I mean, how the heck am I suppose to sleep at 4pm?! That’s why I had really bad insomnia at nights, not being able to fall asleep and waking up around 3am each night and finding it impossible to fall asleep, but then going back to sleep around 9am until almost 1pm in the afternoon and then feeling completely fatigued three hours later. I did some search and found out the most tiring parts of the day back in NJ was between 9am-4pm. The reason why is this was the exact time I’d be going to sleep in Australia.

Darn this body clock being all clingy to the past bed times and refusing to change! Boy, was it frustrating because I always fear insomnia and fear I may always be that way. Coming from a family with history of bad insomnia, I was almost afraid I would stay this way forever. But, having almost survived it, I do have a few advice which I think may help in some ways.

Advice for Copying with Jet Lag

  • Always try and choose a flight where you arrive in the morning. Otherwise, you’re gonna arrive at night having just possibly slept on the plane, and experience insomnia all night.
  • Before you leave, figure out what time you usually go to bed in the other country and then trying to go to bed closer to that time. Even if you work towards 1 hour closer each night. For example, my usual NJ sleep time is 1am, which means I’d need to sleep around 4pm in Australia, but my usual bed time there is around 11pm, so for about one week, I could gradually move one hour up each day, so on the first day, I’d sleep at 10pm, then 9pm and so on.
  • The most important thing to do is not panic and realise this is absolutely normal. If you panic, you are giving yourself more stress!
  • When you wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, try not to go on the computer, turn on the TV or play a game. You don’t need to be lying in the bed forcing yourself to sleep, but if you turn on a bright light around this time, you are making yourself get used to there being a light, so you’ll likely wake up again the same time the next night.
  • If you can’t sleep, don’t worry. Just think about something, plan something in your head (nothing too exciting because excitement is evil towards sleep) or even meditate. Just don’t think about sleeping, but don’t think about nothing either, because if you think of nothing, you’ll likely to stress about sleep! Usually what happens is, you will likely fall asleep after about 1-2 hours, sometimes even longer. If you are too impatient and get up, you won’t give yourself time to fall asleep, so try not to worry about what you’re missing out by just lying in bed. Give yourself this time and treat it as an extra holiday!
  • If by some lucky chance you did fall asleep the whole night and woke up in the proper morning, open the window and just enjoy the sunlight, because I find that helps keep you awake during the day.
  • It takes at least 5 days to see major improvement. During this time, I find that herbs and supplements don’t help very much.
  • Make sure you can take some time off work or study after you come back, so you don’t get stressed out with sleeping. I think the worst nightmare when it comes to copying with insomnia is panicking over it, which then makes it seem so much worse and in return, makes it even HARDER to sleep.
  • Exercises and getting up from your chair and doing something does help in getting rid of some tiredness, despite it feels so impossible to get up when you are feeling immense fatigue, which I might add, feels very different to normal fatigue. However, do try and do something, even if it’s cooking or a small walk.

There really is no way to avoid it, but I also suggest using jetlagrooster to help with certain times to get exposed to the light. Though for me, I tend to forget so I didn’t follow this up very well, but I just find not panicking about it as the best way to get past this time.