Of Jet Lag, Red-eye Flights and Adjusting to East Coast Time


Headshot of BedTimes Managing Editor Beth English

Beth English
Managing Editor

Some might say I did something foolish. Heck, even I think I did something that wasn’t so smart—I booked a red-eye flight home from the Las Vegas Market in early August.

I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. Certainly sleeping on the flight from Las Vegas to Charlotte, North Carolina, would make the flight go by quicker. And I was lucky enough to score a window seat and two nice row companions, who appeared to be mother and daughter.

I came prepared with travel pillow, blanket, eye mask, ear plugs and comfortable clothing. According to the articles I’ve read since my return, I did all the right things.

One problem—I’m a terrible, light sleeper. I dozed some on the four-hour flight, but it was a fitful, fractured sleep.

When I arrived home (after making a mad dash through the Charlotte airport to make my connection), I was thrilled to see my family and just as thrilled to finally lie in my bed.

While it’s hard on the mind and body, there are times when traveling across time zones or flying at night is a necessary evil.

What could I have done differently?

In an article in the December 2012 issue BedTimes, Julie A. Palm compiled the following tips on travel:

  • Avoid taking red-eye flights. Dr. Robert Oexman, director of Kingdown’s Sleep to Live Institute, calls red-eyes “train wrecks” that can disrupt sleep for days. (Oops.)
  • Bring sleep accessories. Pack an eye mask and small sound machine to block out light and noise in unfamiliar surroundings. (Check—although I found I didn’t need the sleep mask or ear plugs.)
  • Get outside. When you arrive in a new time zone, reset your body clock by exposing yourself to as much sunlight as possible. (Partial check. I did get outside for a short bit before hitting the hay.)
  • Don’t load up on caffeine in an effort to stay awake. Exercise and sunlight exposure are better options. (Check.)
  • Don’t take a nap—no matter how much you want to. (I failed this one badly. I took two naps the next day. I simply couldn’t stay awake.)
  • Go to bed at your normal time. (Check.)

While jet lag is a minor problem, researchers are working on ways to make it easier for travelers.

A Feb. 8, 2016, article from the Stanford Medicine News Center, reported that short bursts of light seem to be more effective than continuous light in resetting circadian rhythms.

According to study author Jamie Zeitzer, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, if you normally wake up at 8 a.m. in California and soon will be traveling to New York, you would set the flashing light to go off at 5 a.m. (what would be
8 a.m. East Coast time). “When you get to New York, your biological system is already in the process of shifting to East Coast time.”

The best part is that most people sleep through the flashing light therapy just fine, and it could help those who have to adjust to sleep disruptions such as shift workers, medical residents or truck drivers, the article notes.

Before your next cross-country or international flight, you might want to consider some of these tips to make your journey easier. The next time I travel, I’ll keep them in mind.

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