Recovering from flying half the night
May 19, 2018 10:30 PM   Subscribe

For work reasons I need to spend more or less a week per month for the foreseeable future in a city 4 hours away by plane with a 2 hour time difference. The only direct flight is 10PM to 4AM (accounting for time change), with the return flight 5AM to 7AM (again, local times on both ends). This gives me 2-3 days of jetlag/sleep disruption hangover on each end, with big effort needed to get back to my usual 11PM-6AM sleep pattern. How can I recover quicker? Give me all your road warrior tricks!

Flying out on a Sunday, I get at best 2 hours of snoozing on the plane, then luggage and transfer to hotel takes until at least 6AM if the flight isn't delayed. I get a quick shower, in bed by 6.30, and can't get more than 2 hours sleep because local 8.30AM is 6.30AM at home and you need to get up. Then I usually get through the day on copious caffeine and hydration (because work starts at 10AM), suffer through dizziness and brain fog, and maybe start feeling human by Wednesday afternoon.

Getting back, I try to go to bed early and get 4 hours (10PM to 2AM). Then up, into clothes, into taxi, and after a 5AM takeoff my body generally refuses to do more than snooze for maybe 30 minutes because dammit it's morning time to be awake. I'm home by 8AM on Saturday, usually take it easy, lie around or outright catch a 90 minute nap and try to go to bed at my usual 11PM. This still means dizziness and brain fog until Tuesday morning.

And the above is the best case scenario. In the worst case thus far, on the way out turbulence kept me up all flight (so 2 hours sleep total) and on the way back indigestion nixed both hotel and flight sleep, to the point where due to Saturday commitments I was up for 40 hours in a go, Friday morning to Saturday night. The latter, especially, had me feeling hungover until Thursday.

What can I do to get back to equilibrium quickly? I already hydrate, eat light food around the travel days, and try my best to quell my generalised anxiety, which thankfully does not see plane travel as an issue.
posted by I claim sanctuary to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You said the only direct flight out on a Sunday is a redeye. Would you consider a stopover? Yes, it will take longer, but if you could spend your Sunday daytime flying, you'll be giving up your Sundays for work but in return you won't feel like crap every Monday and Tuesday. Essentially, with your current schedule, you're giving up every Mon, Tues, and half of Wed.

I realize adding a stop adds potential for delays and cancelations, which is part of the price you'd pay for avoiding the redeye. It also adds potential for losing bags, which hopefully you can mitigate by traveling with only a carryon.
posted by whitelily at 11:15 PM on May 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

Same for the way back, really - you say that the Saturday morning flight is disruptive enough that you have dizziness and brain fog until Tuesday morning. Flying all day Saturday would mean you can enjoy your Sunday and Monday.
posted by whitelily at 11:20 PM on May 19, 2018

I am sure you have a very good reason for wanting to take these flights, but I am not really understanding, if these flights are for work, why you are considering flying these times? If it is for work - generally the work day is Mon - Fri. between 8:00 and 18:00. Why aren't you choosing flights during these times? Are you self employed?

It seems like with the flights that you have chosen, you are going to wreck your health and sleep as well as severely impact your work performance, saying nothing of the impact that your lack of sleep will have on your private life and private relationships.

Are you employed? If so, then insist on leaving during the work day and returning during the work day! To me, there is simply no way you can be consistently effective over a long period of time with this schedule.

A second tip, if you are employed and your boss is insisting you take these flights, then bring a doctors note saying that this schedule isn't possible for your health. Did you already agree to this schedule? There is no doctor in the world who wouldn't sign a note saying something general about your health and that this is too risky. You can tell your boss you went for a checkup and your doctor said some blah blah about your heart and nixed this.

Additionally, you used the term 'road warrior' and ask for tips and tricks. Be careful with this term. Don't be a hero here at the cost of your health. There are no tips and tricks that are going to make this schedule ok.
posted by jazh at 1:13 AM on May 20, 2018

Response by poster: Just to head this off - there are very few connections between the two cities involved (and no, neither of them is in the US), and flights to the target city are... not prioritised for convenience, to the point 4AM seems to be the busiest time at the local airport. The next best options on Sunday involve either getting up at 3AM (so same/similar problem) to land at 6 PM, or going to the airport at 11AM to land at 2AM. This would not translate to significantly more sleep - people who opt for them seem to be just as out of it during the Monday morning meetings... Going home, there's a Friday flight that's during daytime with a reasonable schedule, but it's not available Saturdays and doing a half-day on Friday would involve a significant financial hit that I'm trying to avoid. This is all tied to the complicated schedule and regulations for this project, which is financially lucrative but requires actual presence in the target country during weekday working hours for the remuneration to be paid.

This is why I'm looking to solutions how to hack recovering from the current schedule quicker.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:22 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

One option is to learn how to sleep more during travel (e.g. sleeping more on the plane, sleeping during hours when your body doesn't want to sleep). I'm not a body-clock person, so I don't know how realistic it is for someone with a strong natural body clock to become someone who doesn't have one... you can try taking melatonin, see if that has any effect.

If you can't retrain yourself to sleep at any hour of the day/night, then can you retrain your usual sleep schedule from 11PM-6AM to something that causes less jetlag with your target city? I'm bad at math, but 9PM-4AM and 1AM-8AM are both reasonable sleeping hours (yes, I know someone who does that kind of early schedule by choice), and shifting a few hours in one direction ought to help with jetlag.
posted by serelliya at 1:34 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely did not think your flights were within the US, as your location is listed as Poland...

Seconding melatonin - it doesn't work for me but it does seem to work for a lot of people. Try the slow-release/time-released kind so that maybe it will work while you're on the plane as well as once you arrive at the hotel.

Sorry if this sounds gross, but you mention that you take a shower as soon as you land at your hotel. That makes sense but I would try skipping it, as showers tend to wake people up. Also, you have a hard stop for sleep at 8:30am local time. So, don't use up precious sleep window time with a shower. Go to sleep as soon as you get to the hotel and shower after 8:30am before heading to the office.

Also, re: the alternate flight times you mentioned - yes, those sound bad too. For me personally, though, "going to the airport at 11AM to land at 2AM" would work better than 10pm to 4am. If you land at 2am, you will (under good circumstances) arrive at your hotel at 4am. Let's say you go to sleep immediately (no shower :) ) and wake up at 8:30am local time. So you'd be sleeping 4am to 8:30am local time which would feel like 2am to 6:30am to you (home city time). For me at least, this (hopefully uninterrupted) 4.5 hours of sleep would be an improvement over 2 hours on the plane + 2 hours at the hotel. Obviously everyone is different, but if it were me I would give this outbound flight schedule a try to see if it feels a bit better than your current redeye.
posted by whitelily at 2:00 AM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

If these are your options and you have to do this project you will be exhausted a lot for the duration of the project. You will simply not get enough uninterrupted sleep any which way you look at this. So I’d focus on squeezing ever last 5 mins of sleep out of your schedule, learn to sleep at any time the opportunity presents itself including experimenting with sleeping aids (talk to your doctor, no reason to do anything but sleep on the plane) and accept that this will always leave you exhausted. Personally I would also work out the exact last minute you need to leave for the airport to get to your gate within 5 mins of them starting boarding etc - it’s not like there should be a lot of traffic at that time of day and you do not need time for airport shopping. Then I‘d focus on taking it easy on your return so no hectic Sat schedules on those Saturdays. And finally, focus on overall health - make sure you eat well and exercise so as not to compound the effects of this punishing travel schedule.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:27 AM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Can you get scrip for Ambien? It's a very light hypnotic with a short half-life, and I have used it in the past during commute runs since it puts me down fast and hard without leaving me groggy at the end. You should try it yourself not on the airplane first, but it may make a big difference for you if you can manage to sleep the whole four hours of the flight each way. Doctors are usually understanding if you have this kind of commute.

Agree not to shower at the hotel before you need to wake up. Showering will just make sleep harder.

In a similar circumstance, I trained myself to sleep for 2 hours during the day as a kind of nap. I was just desperate enough that I finally started napping. I needed to keep the naps for less than 2 hours so I didn't have nap fog the rest of the day. I'm pretty happy I learned how to do that, since it now is a very useful way of recovering from jet lag for me.
posted by frumiousb at 2:42 AM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to fly out on Saturday instead of Sunday?

(Also you mention time spent on luggage - can you at least travel with just a carry-on and under-the-seat bag?)
posted by trig at 3:46 AM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you're only there 5 days, is there any way you can take a carry-on and avoid having to wait for luggage?

Going eastward is tough. I don't know what daylight/weather is like in your destination city, but would it be possible to go for a brisk outdoor walk when you first wake up?

Adult sleep cycles are generally around 90-100 minutes. If you can time your sleep/naps in increments thereof, you will feel less groggy when you wake up.

I would avoid anything like Ambien due to the risk of sleep-walking, sleep-eating, sleep-driving, etc. Rare, but dangerous, and probably not what you want to be dealing with on an international work trip! Melatonin's a much safer and more effective choice for jet lag/shift work, which is essentially what this is. If you do opt for meds, just do a trial dose before your flight to make sure you don't have a weird adverse reaction.
posted by basalganglia at 5:39 AM on May 20, 2018

If you are going between the same cities each time, leave a suitcase at the hotel, have them clean and press your clothes, duplicate toiletries, electronics, etc. No checked luggage means less time checking in and no wait at the other end.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:21 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you can stay at the same hotel every time, how about leaving your bag of clothes and toiletries permanently with the hotel. They can likely clean your clothes over the weekend.

That way you can travel with a small and light bag, and have clean clothes waiting for you in your room. Also you won’t need to waste time doing laundry when you are home on weekends.
posted by monotreme at 11:36 AM on May 20, 2018

Response by poster: I'm flying with a group, so checked luggage will be happening regardless of my own choices, we're all getting in the same shuttle to the hotel. This would be why I put recovering from flying in the title of the question, not travel hacks - the schedule itself is as optimised as possible given my constraints. (Also, I always forget some people get into nice clean sheets and clean pyjamas without washing off the day's sweat... ;P)

For the reference of future readers - getting a Thai massage on the Saturday helped quite a bit, at least my ankles are back! Gonna buy melatonin too.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2018

You mention eating light foods, but is fasting an option? Here's one description, but if you google "fasting jetlag" you'll get a bunch of results (including some from previous AskMe's).
posted by unknowncommand at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2018

Best answer: Yes, melatonin is a lifesaver! I'm able to hack my sleep cycle easily with it. (Also fall asleep without one hours, minimum, of raging anxiety oh god I really love melatonin.)

I don't know if this really counts as recovery, but I found when I was crewing ships and had a very specific schedule (that involved often waking up after only 4 or 5 hours of sleep to work in the middle of the night, then go back to bed), my body worked itself out because I...kind of expected it to? I knew that I had to get sleep in a very narrow range of time. It helped when I could block out all light, etc., and I definitely felt like I was living in a strange other world, but I got quite dangerous, often complex work done just fine. I feel sort of woo saying this but...have you tried just affirming to yourself that you will sleep whenever and wherever you get any time at all, and then doing all you can to make that be? I'm absolutely cognizant that this may not work for you, but it did for me -- even returning to sailing after ages away, I snapped right back into that mindset.

Please physically take care of yourself! I don't know how practical it is for you, but the last time I had a short overnight redeye, I was able to spend a few hours before the airport in an indoor/outdoor spa, going between a nice schvitz, a hot tub, and just lying around looking at trees. It made me feel about a thousand times more relaxed and just generally better about everything.
posted by kalimac at 11:56 AM on May 20, 2018

Getting back, I try to go to bed early and get 4 hours (10PM to 2AM). Then up, into clothes, into taxi, and after a 5AM takeoff my body generally refuses to do more than snooze for maybe 30 minutes because dammit it's morning time to be awake. I'm home by 8AM on Saturday, usually take it easy, lie around or outright catch a 90 minute nap and try to go to bed at my usual 11PM. This still means dizziness and brain fog until Tuesday morning.

What if you didn't try and go to bed before the flight home? Then maybe you could sleep a couple hours on the plane, or else be able to sleep a couple hours once you get home, and otherwise spend the day doing active stuff or at least being outdoors for sunlight, and then go to bed early on Saturday night and make sure to go outside and do some exercise on Sunday. I think this might help you sleep better over the weekend and recover by Monday.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2018

Best answer: Also, I always forget some people get into nice clean sheets and clean pyjamas without washing off the day's sweat... ;P

Well, which do you value more: clean sheets/pyjamas or sleep? :)

Two more ideas:

1) Sunshine is good for getting over jet lag. Take a walk in the sun (weather permitting of course) once you arrive at a new location, after you've slept as much as you can.

2) You mentioned hydration, but I've read that drinking a half liter of water per hour of flight is good for jet lag. This is a pretty intense level of hydration but seems worth a try?
posted by whitelily at 2:22 PM on May 20, 2018

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