Last week, I woke up in every US continental time zone (Portland, OR on Monday; Dallas on Tuesday; Philadelphia on Wednesday; Denver on Thursday; and Portland, OR again on Friday).
I also take quite a few red-eye flights and flights overseas. This kind of time zone shifting messes with my body clock sometimes, causing me to stay up late (particularly when I travel east), typically followed by an early morning start. There are a ton of things you can do to help with jet lag and recovery from red-eye flights, but I want to share a few of my favorite 'tools' with you.
Darkness on Demand
I find a bit of darkness can do wonders to get me in the mood to sleep, so I've taken to traveling with some lightweight, comfortable eye shades made by Eagle Creek. I hardly notice I'm wearing them, and they make it look completely dark.
- Taking a trans-oceanic or red-eye flight. Whether it's light coming in from outside the plane or the cabin lights coming on, I find it difficult to stay asleep when it's bright out. These shades make it pitch dark through any of these events.
- Trying to catch some Zzzzz's in the hotel, on a train, or in a car. Consider how these eye shades can help in the following scenarios.
- At certain times of the year in many parts of the world, the sun often stays up very late at night and/or rises very early in the morning.
- On long drives and train rides, I sometimes want or need to catch a little shut-eye to make up for jet lag or just plain being tired.
- While some hotels have great light blocking shades, not all do - some stream light in (from the sun or nearby signs & street lights) no matter how you adjust the curtains.
Peace and Quiet on Demand
I stock a bunch of disposable earplugs (this link points to the ones I use) and always have some with me in a small plastic bag when I travel. They are excellent for:
- Keeping out those "bings" when the seatbelt sign goes on, in-flight announcements, and chatter from fellow passengers when you want to sleep on the plane.
- Keeping out the noise when you are trying to sleep in hotels and others are making lots of noise (warning - you probably won't hear your alarm or wakeup call!...but the fire alarm noise still seems to make it through - and yes, I know this from experience)
- Keeping out the noise of your family when you arrive from 24+ hours of transit and want to sleep the afternoon you arrive home.
By the way - they also come in handy on group campouts (like Boy Scout campouts) when people in neighboring tents are snoring like foghorns, or people are staying up late to play cards. (warning - you won't hear much so if you are the "on call" chaperone, don't wear them - in the Scout troop I camp with, we adults rotate nights of being "on call" to help with this).
When All Else Fails
I don't like to take drugs unless I have a good medical reason to do so, but I always travel with some over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids just in case.
I don't take them often, but do use them occasionally when:
- I'm taking an overseas flight and want to sleep through it so I can wake up somewhat refreshed when we land,
- I'm taking a red-eye and have meetings after I arrive the next morning,
- I'm having trouble getting adjusted to a new time zone and I have to be "on" for meetings the next day
In all of these situations, I'll take one about 30 minutes before I need to be asleep. I then get to sleep quickly and, at least with the kind I take, I don't end up with a hung-over feeling the next day (make sure you're going to sleep a minimum of about 4.5 hours or you might feel a little sluggish for a while)
Read the Label
The popular over-the-counter sleep aids typically use one of two active ingredients (sometimes, you'll even the same brand will have two formulations in nearly identical packaging so check the label). The two types of active ingredient I see most often are:
- diphenhydramine - Used in Sominex and other OTC sleep aids, this is exactly the same stuff that is sold as Benadryl, for allergies and such. It is very safe, great for allergies, and known for making most people sleepy. However, if you're allergy prone like me, you've taken enough Benadryl in your lifetime that it doesn't make you very sleepy any more. That's why I choose the other formulation...
- doxylamine succinate - I usually see this in Unisom, and it works much better for me. As I mentioned above, I start to feel it about 30 minutes after I take one and I don't feel hung over the next morning.
I usually go with the generic (store brand) version, and am currently carrying Walgreens' "Wal-Som" with doxylamine succinate.
Tools for Travel
These are a few of the tools in my travel tool kit, and I hope they serve you as well as they have served me. Got any other tips? Bring 'em on.