Functioning with bad jet-lag?
October 27, 2012 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Help me survive a flight overseas...

On Wednesday next week, I leave Canada on a red-eye flight to Ireland to take part in a festival. Upon arrival in Dublin, I rent a car, and drive three and a half hours on the side of the road I'm not used to, to Donegal where I am staying. Once I arrive, I go on National TV and sing a song, perfectly, from memory, in my fourth language (Irish).

My biggest two worries right now are a) getting into an accident because I'm tired and driving all alone in unfamiliar circumstances, and b) flubbing my performance because of extreme tiredness.

Hive Mind, can you suggest strategies to keep me as functional as possible for as long as possible, given the constraints above?

P.s.: I've already looked into upgrading my seat so that I can sleep more easily on the plane (don't have a definitive answer yet, but all signs point to "no").
posted by LN to Travel & Transportation around Donegal, Ireland (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever taken Ambien or similar (not over-the-counter/melatonin, but the good stuff)? I wouldn't suggest taking it for the first time on your flight, but if you can get a prescription before you leave, try taking one as a test run and see how groggy you are when you wake up. If you are functional, pop your sleeping pill as soon as you board the plane, cover up with the blanket, strap your seatbelt on over the blanket so it is visible to the flight attendants so they don't wake you up, and go to sleep for the duration of the flight. If you aren't that affected by the sleeping pill during your test run, deplaning, getting your luggage, going through customs, and getting your rental car will give you enough time to shake any residual drowsiness. Have a great trip, and break a leg in your performance!
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 9:08 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I won't fly anymore without Xanax. Pretty easy to get a scrip for. Find my seat, get settled, pop 2 Xanax and next thing I know, we're there. I wake up refreshed and ready.
posted by xedrik at 9:09 AM on October 27, 2012

Bring a GPS for Ireland, having spent several vacations touring around there it's nice to have a GPS.

As far as the flight goes...2 glasses of wine, 1 motrin pm. See ya in 8 hours. Don't eat heavily before or on the flight, drink 4x the water you think you need.

Check your rental if you know how to drive stick, don't worry about it, if you don't...make sure you get an automatic.
posted by iamabot at 9:11 AM on October 27, 2012

Best answer: Don't drink any alcohol on the plane. Drink a ton of water instead. Only drink caffeine with breakfast if you normally do.

Take some melatonin with you if you want a non-prescription option to help you fall asleep.

Take earplugs, an eyemask, a pillow of some sort (neck pillow if that works for you), and a blanket -- airplane blankets tend to suck -- and use sensory deprivation to help you stay asleep once you're asleep.

Take a few (travel-size) toiletries to go through the motions of "going to bed" -- go to the lavatory, splash water on your face, brush your teeth, take out your contacts (if relevant), have on comfy clothes. Do the same when you wake up -- freshen yourself up the way you would in the morning. If you go through the motions of having a good night's sleep and waking up from it, it will help a lot.

Have you driven on the left before? If not, briefly review the theory of roundabouts and right of way before you tackle it. It'll help.
posted by olinerd at 9:16 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assuming you end up stuck in economy class, check in online and use seatguru or seatexpert to make sure you get the best available seat. Look for seats shown as having slightly more legroom and avoid those with "entertainment system boxes" or too close to the bathrooms. (Or try to get an exit seat, of course.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:35 AM on October 27, 2012

Best answer: Aside from the singing, you're describing the basic sequence of every trip to Britain of my entire life, except my mom drives and, assuming you're not flying from Vancouver, your flight is at least an hour shorter, if not more (since we start from Chicago), which does give you less time to sleep. The key to this is managing to sleep on the plane. Sleep is more important than good sleep. The last time we went, we were flirting with disaster in that I think my mom got one hour of sleep total. Me driving was going to be the backup plan, but I didn't fall asleep the entire flight. The hardest part of the drive will probably be getting out of the airport and onto the right road out of Dublin.

Do you have a GPS or know someone you could borrow one from? There's still time to order an SD card with Ireland maps on it. I assume the car rental company will happily rent you one, too. It makes the getting out of the airport part drastically easier.

Do you have a recording of the song you're singing that you could listen to in the car? Singing along will help you stay awake and be practice. I think you should be able to get Irish-language radio the whole way, if you want to try and switch your brain over to Irish (which might break your ability to speak English a bit when you arrive, or at least that's what might happen to me).
posted by hoyland at 9:38 AM on October 27, 2012

Best answer: Wear really, really comfy clothes on the flight. Yoga pants, a soft tee-shirt, a hoodie. I have a pair of ubersoft cashmere socks that I used to wear when I had to fly overseas for work. (I just listened to you on Mefi Music -- just wow. A voice like that, you couldn't ever sound less than amazing.)
posted by mochapickle at 9:39 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any chance you can get them to buy you a plane ticket through to Donegal airport as well? There's only 2 planes a day, but if you're on the red-eye, you'll get there in plenty of time for the mid afternoon flight, and then you can hire the car from there.

It does rather depend where you're going to in Donegal, though, it's a big county with very small roads, but if you're on the north west coast, that would be the solution I'd go for. If you're going to Letterkenny or Donegal Town, then there's plenty of buses, too, for about €30.
posted by ambrosen at 10:00 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What leeway do you have between leaving the airport and appearing on stage? Depending on what part of Donegal you'll be in, three and a half hours sounds a bit optimistic for travel time when you're driving an unfamiliar car.

I always have to be wary of falling asleep at the wheel on long journeys. So, speaking from experience:
-Be prepared to pull off the road if you feel even the beginning stages of nodding off. Take 20 minutes or so to get some coffee, stretch your legs, and set off again. (That's where the time leeway is important - if you've only got 4 or 5 hours from leaving the airport to appearing on stage, I'm not sure what you can do here).
-Keep the car temperature as chilly as you can manage without making yourself miserable.
-Buy some cans of Red Bull and keep them with you in the car. If you can't stop for coffee Red Bull or other caffeinated drinks can give a good caffeine jolt which helps.

If you're taking the route through Northern Ireland, make sure to have some sterling with you as well as euros in case you need to stop.
posted by Azara at 10:03 AM on October 27, 2012

See if anyone you know has any modafinil. Take one as you arrive in Dublin.
posted by zadcat at 10:05 AM on October 27, 2012

In the us they've started selling ZZZQuil or Dipenhydromine-Benedryl. Take 2 and you'll be nice and sleepy on the plane.

A neck pillow is pretty great, I got one for my last flight abroad and it was a life-saver.

Another option is to get the window seat, so you can prop the pillow on the bulkhead.

I have a nice, fleace blankie that keeps me nice and warm on long flights.

I wore Minetonka slippers as shoes (you'll throw them away when you get home) and that helped with my feet.

Yoga pants, comfy bra, softest tops.

If you can, at the airport, have a shower, do your hair and make up before you get the rental.

Get the GPS.

If there's any other way to get to your destination other than driving (train, bus) do that.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:12 AM on October 27, 2012

Can you just hire a driver to take you from Dublin to Donegal? It seems like that would be more valuable than upgrading your seat, in that you'd remove the stress of driving and navigation, and you'd get an additional few hours of rest in the car.
posted by judith at 10:13 AM on October 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yep, seconding the advice to sleep. When my choir went to Europe (nineteen hours!) earlier this year, we weren't allowed to do anything but rest on the way there. No movies! No chatting! Granted we're in senior high, but it worked. (We spent a few days in Cork - gah, Ireland is fabulous.)

I know it might be hard to sleep, especially if you're nervous, so just close your eyes, daydream... and maybe get some prescription meds to help. (But test these first! Truly, YMMV.) In my experience, if you're well-rested, it's likely you won't feel the real jet lag for a while, so it may not affect your performance.

Good luck! (:
posted by undue influence at 10:13 AM on October 27, 2012

Do not take any drugs, over the counter or prescription unless you have tried them before. Some sleeping pills totally knock people out / make them very groggy. Modafinil / Provigil could make you very very jittery (as could too much caffeine).

If you could get a driver, I think that would be the best solution - you could then rest / relax in the car instead of stressing the whole way about the drive.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:17 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far, everybody! In answer to a couple of concerns:

I have only ever driven a manual, so the issue of driving stick is no problem.

I have driven in Ireland before, but a long time ago.

I went on the Irish Rules of the road site the other day and reviewed the procedure for right of way and roundabouts (have I ever mentioned how much I hate roundabouts?), so I'm pretty sure I'm OK there.

I don't have a GPS, but I've plotted the course in Google maps, and sort of "driven" the route using the street view, so I have a sense of the turns I'm supposed to take.
posted by LN at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2012

Oh yes, and don't underestimate how important comfy clothing is. Really.

Also something kind of abstract that has helped for such 'jump off the plane and off to perform' situations: focus. From now, everything is just a tiny step closer to The Big Thing, which by the way you will ace. So every time something unexpected happens, try to keep an even keel and conserve your mental energy for performing. Good luck.
posted by undue influence at 10:26 AM on October 27, 2012

Starting today, reduce your caffeine intake. Avoid sugar and processed foods as much as possible. Get plenty of rest and moderate exercise. Basically, consider yourself in training. You want to be in your best shape possible for this event. Try to relax on the plane. Sleep if you want to sleep but don't stress over it. The newness of driving on the wrong side of the road will have you hyper-focused. It is difficult to fall asleep in that state. Adrenaline will kick in when you are on the air and you will feel more energetic than you are. Drink plenty of water so that your skin isn't puffy. Have fun!
posted by myselfasme at 10:28 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the advice to get a driver. Much better investment than seat upgrade. An upgraded seat could still have a kicking child or a chatty passenger right behind it. In a driven car by yourself you are guaranteed to not get lost, and to be able to sleep. If you're going to need the car at your destination, have your driver drive you to a car rental agency in Donegal rather than to the hotel.

Someone above suggested combining wine with Motrin PM. Do not do this; do not combine alcohol with NSAIDs ever. Most people know about Tylenol but Motrin's just as bad for your gastric lining as Tylenol is for your liver. My partner got himself a nice ulcer with a wine + Advil habit.

Sleeping pills on planes might work or might not. Don't try it on a plane for the first time and don't overdo it. Better to sleep in the car on the way than risk a tranq hangover after the flight.

Have fun, it sounds like a very special experience!
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2012

I always bring a fleece travel blanket on the plane. Sometimes I use it as a blanket, sometimes I roll it as a pillow. Sometimes it's just nice to have a blankie! Also I have used mine as a pillow when staying somewhere that had awful pillows in the bedroom.
posted by radioamy at 10:49 AM on October 27, 2012

The rental car company will have a GPS you can rent for about an extra 10 € a day.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:01 AM on October 27, 2012

Bus service (coaches) is very good in Ireland - I remember they picked up every hour throughout the entire day (yes, including the middle of the night). From a passenger perspective, driving is either mind-numbingly boring (in the countryside - there are motorways everywhere now) or completely chaotic (drivers operate with a different set of assumptions, and Dublin can get pretty gridlocked at times). I'd strongly recommend coach and/or taxi instead of driving.
posted by meowzilla at 11:46 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you move your ticket back one day? It would make a big difference.
posted by 3491again at 11:56 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: drink 4x the water you think you need.

Seconding this. Plane air is DRY, and you'll want to stay hydrated for your voice's sake, and in general.
posted by Specklet at 12:01 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

This multi-purpose pillow salvaged my last redeye and made it bearable. I haven't found regular neck pillows to be very comfortable, but this thing can be mushed into any desired shape. It's awesome.
posted by BrashTech at 12:24 PM on October 27, 2012

Make sure you notice the shift from metric to imperial and back as you cross the border into and out of Northern Ireland.
posted by knapah at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2012

I always bring melatonin with me on overseas trips. I will pop a couple as soon as I get on the plane, have a glass of wine, and then try to fall to sleep as quickly as possible. I also usually have an emergency stash of xanax as well, just in case the melatonin doesn't work.

Practice taking it over the next few nights so that you know how your body reacts to it, and then plan your dose/timing accordingly for the day of the trip.

Other things I bring with me to encourage sleep on the plane: music, noise-reducing earbuds, one of those eye mask things, a small pillow, and a blanket. I'm getting sleepy just thinking about it...
posted by joan_holloway at 2:47 PM on October 27, 2012

Best answer: Change your watch/phone to local Irish time the second you get on a plane, so that you start to mentally adjust to the time of day it will be when you disembark.
posted by pink_gorilla at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2012

Even if you can't get an upgrade, buy a pass to a business class lounge at the airport in Dublin that has showers. Take a shower when you get in, change into a fresh set of clothes, and get a decent meal. That will help reset things more than anything else.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have terrible problems with sleeping on long flights. One thing that has helped me is switching from the standard U-shaped neck pillow to the cervical-collar type. It doesn't force your head forward but gives it support in the three directions that the seat back does not. I also rely on earplugs in conjunction with noise cancelling earphones.
posted by Morrigan at 3:35 PM on October 27, 2012

Seconding travelling AT LEAST one day earlier as 3491again suggests. I think it would be worth the extra $$$.

I did what you did in reverse some years ago (Ireland => Boston, hopped in a car and drove to Camden, Maine, arrived at 3 a.m. and sang at a wedding that day). I'm quite sure I sounded dreadful. There are some things that chemical/nutrition/exercise hacks really can't overcome. Spend the extra dough and treat yourself right.

If you do decide to travel one day earlier, here's what Rick Steves (love that nerdy man) says about jet lag: stay awake the day of arrival and try to stay moderately active (walks, moderate bike rides). Go to bed at your regular time.

Finally, bus/rail in Ireland was awesome when I was there in the mid 90's. It probably still is. I did not get behind a wheel once during my 10-day stint in Ireland and I would not have had it any other way.
posted by Currer Belfry at 4:32 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

On my last outbound flight overseas my throat got so dry it was a major factor in keeping me awake. I ended up draping my blanket over my head so I could breathe moister air, and then I slept. Also, bring throat lozenges, Ricola, hard candy etc.. to your seat to soothe your throat.
posted by Anwan at 4:38 PM on October 27, 2012

Best answer: I haven't read all the comments, so sorry if anything I say is duplicative. Also, I don't know how experienced you are at travelling, so forgive me if any of this seems obvious.

First, you want to calibrate how hard this will be for you. Do you have any sleeping difficulties -- trouble getting up, insomnia, a need for coffee? Anything like that would suggest you're likely susceptible to jetlag, so you will want to do lots of prep and self-care. If you can sleep anywhere, and rarely feel dopey/sluggish/etc. then you are likelier to be (more) okay. I am moderately susceptible, and FWIW I would not do what you're planning unless I had absolutely no choice: I would move my flight at least 24, and more likely 48, hours earlier.

If you must do it, here's how to make it work:

* Three or four days before your flight, start going to bed and getting up hours earlier than you normally do. This will help a lot.
* Make and print yourself a generously-timed schedule before you leave. (Like: 10AM Plane lands, 11AM Clear customs, 11.30 Pick up car, 3PM Arrive at venue.) Put on it all the addresses, phone numbers, names of people, directions --- anything you might need. This way if you're sluggish after landing you won't need to think, and you'll have a clear indicator if you're falling behind.
* Put some back-up food in your luggage in case you end up running late -- oranges, granola, whatever.
* When you pack, make a separate section in your luggage for the stuff you will need when you land: change of clothes if you need one, makeup if you need it, lyrics, whatever. You don't want to have to dig around and risk panicking when you're groggy.
* Consider in advance what you'll say at customs. You don't want to get detained.
* Print out a map of the airport and mark on it where your car rental firm is.
* Call your bank and warn them you'll be travelling so they don't freeze your debit/credit cards.
* Do you need your phone to work in Dublin? If so, call your provider and ask them to ensure you're set up for international roaming for voice and data (if you need data) -- this will be both a technical question and a billing/plan question. Find out precisely what you will need to do to turn on roaming/data once you land: you may need to manually change settings. Be prepared for your phone to not work -- e.g., print out Google directions, etc.
* Get a window seat if you can. It's easier to sleep in the window because people won't crawl over you to get to the bathroom, and you won't be bumped by the drinks cart. Try to get an exit row, for more leg room.
* While waiting to board (and after you disembark), do some stretches. (Ignore the people around you.) These ones will help a lot to counteract the effect of being scrunched into a very-non-ergonomic seat for a long time.
* Maybe read about the airport here.
* If speed matters, make sure your car rental firm is inside the airport, not offsite with a shuttle. The shuttles can take forever.

* On take-off, adjust your watch and phone to Dublin time.
* Wear super-comfortable clothes so you can curl up. Some people like neck pillows and eyeshades. Noice-cancelling headphones are good too, or at least ordinary earbuds so you can block out the plane noise with music.
* Take off your shoes. Your shoes should be comfortable -- not narrow or tight. Your feet will swell on the flight, and it'll hurt to put them back on when you land.
* Follow all this good advice from Dan Pink.
* Upon takeoff, order an alcoholic drink and take two Benedryl. I advise against Ambien and similar stuff: I know too many people who've had bad experiences with hangover-like effects the next day. Turn off all your lights, slug back the drink and pills and go to sleep. Sleep as much as you possibly can.

* Get to the customs line as quickly as possible -- how long you wait at customs is the biggest factor determining how long you'll be in the airport. You can find the bathroom, a bank machine, coffee, etc., afterwards.
* Drink coffee and do whatever else you'd normally do in the morning. If you can shower somewhere, great. If there's a massage kiosk at the airport and you have time, a massage will make you feel significantly better.
* Plan so you can get to your destination well in advance. Until you sing, stay outside as much as possible, don't wear sunglasses, and get as much exposure as you can to the elements (fresh air, sun, wind). You want to give your body as much evidence as possible that it's daytime so it'll adapt quickly.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 11:51 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers, everybody! I've marked some items "best" based on the constraints I find myself under:

I cannot move the date of the flight or upgrade the seat (although lord knows I tried!).

Taking a bus to Letterkenny means I will arrive far to close to the performance to be comfortable. The car is actually the fastest way to get there, and gives me the most leeway time.

Since I'm going to be using the car the whole time I'm here, hiring a driver would be somewhat difficult (he/she'd have no way of getting back to Dublin, except by bus).

So thanks, everyone, I will implement your ideas for plane survival, and try to stay out of Sandy's path!

If anyone's interested in catching the broadcast, even if you don't speak Irish, it will be streamed live online on Thursday night, and you can find it here (look for "Nuacht TG4"):
posted by LN at 8:53 AM on October 29, 2012

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