jet lag or jet-lag


a temporary disruption of the body’s normal biological rhythms after high-speed air travel through several time zones

I’ve been to Europe.  A lot.  Thirteen times, to be exact.  So I know jet lag.

Or at least I thought I did.

I’d been warned by savvier travelers than I, but like most wisdom, it takes the fully lived experience to truly grasp and appreciate it.  Recovering from a 13-hour time difference is not the same as recovering from a 6-8-hour time difference.  By way of illustration, I give you my riveting sleep journal:

Friday: Arrive home from SE Asia 2:00 pm.  Can barely keep eyes open starting around 5:00 pm.  Sleep 6:30 pm to 3:30 am.  Nine hours!  Not bad.  Just need to shift the “to bed and to rise” hours later and I’ll be golden!

Saturday: No naps during the day.  Proclaim victory, but then struggle with intense fatigue from about 5:30 pm on.  Manage to stay awake until 8:00 pm.  Yay!  I like where this is going.   Then: crap.  Awake at 2:00 Sunday morning.  Wide awake.  Head downstairs and the husband follows shortly after.  By 2:30 am we are drinking our new Lao coffee and reading through the Christmas cards we got while we were away.  Having fun, but deep down know this is bad news.  The husband returns to bed at 4:00 am but just tosses and turns.  I know better and just stay awake doing crosswords.

Sunday: Take 2-hour nap during the day.  That evening, knowing I’d have to be back at work the next day, take a prescription sleeping aid that I often get for long plane flights.  Sleep well – something like 8:00 pm to 4:00 am, but know I can’t take credit because I cheated.

Monday: Go to work.  Start bout of frequent yawning mid-morning that doesn’t stop all day.  Have colleagues tell me I look like death warmed over, but in a nicer way.  Eyeballs sting with fatigue.  Stumble home and crave a nap, but manage to stay awake until 7:00 pm.  Wake up at 11:00 pm.  Lay there, wide awake, staring at the ceiling, for three hours.  At 2:00 am get out of bed and head downstairs to watch a movie (First They Killed My Father, which is good but not as good as the book.  Determine Angelina Jolie needs to work on her directing skills.  The movie is too slow – full of long, drawn-out shots that should have put me to sleep but didn’t.)  Turn off movie and try to sleep on the couch.  Doesn’t work.

Tuesday: The husband comes down at 4:00 am to find me in tears.  Feel sick to my stomach.  Feel dizzy and light-headed.  (Are those the same thing?  I don’t know, but I mention both.)  Hands are shaking.  Don’t feel well.  I know it’s “just” jet lag, but can’t imagine operating a motor vehicle, much less being compos mentis enough to teach all day.  Call in sick.  Enervated, I putter around the house all morning completely exhausted but, maddeningly, not sleepy.  Finally go to bed at 11:00 am but it feels like it takes me ages to fall asleep.  Get up at 1:00 pm feeling a little better.  Procrastinate making a baked oatmeal dish (that the husband refuses to eat but that I like well enough and which keeps me in breakfasts for a week and a half with just one 8 x 8 pan).  Finally make it after dinner in an effort to stay awake and have a flash of inspiration: doing something active helps keep me from nodding off at 6:00 pm in a way that reading or watching TV cannot.  Start making a list of active-ish things I can do the next few nights.  Go to bed at 8:00 and sleep until 3:00 am.

Wednesday: At work, commiserate with colleagues who have had similar Asia to America jet lag struggles. Feel much better than day before.  Am told I look less tired.  Less yawning today, but develop headache in the afternoon.  Come home from work not wanting to go straight to bed.  Hurrah!   After dinner, fulfill my “stay active” promise by making pâte brisée (fancy French word for pie crust) as my “active” activity and in preparation for apple pie I promised to make the husband last summer but never got around to.  After that, hear the siren’s song of the couch and lay down against my better judgement.  Fight nodding off for an hour and a half while watching Seinfeld and Friends.  (Have seen all Seinfeld episodes dozens of times, but the two episodes of Friends are new to me… it’s the two-parter in Barbados where Joey and Rachel get together.)  Headache worsens.  Go to bed at 8:00 pm but cheat again, this time taking two Tylenol PMs.  Get eight solid hours, so I don’t regret it, especially because it’s an OTC and not a prescription like the pill on Sunday night.

Thursday: Unexpected fatigue takes hold mid-morning and doesn’t let go all day.  Arrive home, eat an early dinner, then spend time working on this post.  Glance at clock at 5:30 pm, sigh, and will the hands to move faster so I can go to bed.  Although there’s a cake recipe I can make and freeze in preparation for some dinner guests we’re having in a week, just can’t be bothered.  Go to basement to fold laundry.  Come back upstairs and work on household finances.  Wonder if readers will find my life unspeakably boring. Give in to another Seinfeld/Friends marathon, but doze off in the middle of the last episode, jerking awake at 8:00 pm.  Go to bed and sleep until 2:00 am.  Toss and turn for another hour until I’m certain somnolence is out of reach.

Friday: So here I am at 3:45 am on Friday morning, typing away.  This afternoon will mark one full week since we’ve been back home, and based on what I’ve heard, I’m only halfway through this hell.  My most profound wish at the moment – other than world peace and a gargantuan financial windfall – is that week two of jet lag recovery is much less intense and that next week I can post about something more interesting than my erratic sleep patterns.  Until then, I’m wishing you all restful, restorative slumber.

Read more about our Dust-Farm-Pail List SE Asia adventures:

63 thoughts

  1. Yes, it sucks. When we went to New Zealand, that was an 18 hour time difference. It does mess with you, but it should start getting better soon for you. Melatonin works for some people with jet lag, too. If you haven’t already tried it, you could give that a try.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. O my goodness, just reading about it makes my head spin! The good news is that jet lag is only temporary, but I guess you already know that. I once read – don’t remember where, thou, – that the body will adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two time zones per day. So, there’s not much you can do but wait for your body to adjust. I hope, you’ll be back on your feet in no time. Have a good day. Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

  3. oh lord, I feel your pain!! Are you trying to exercise? It’s hard when you feel this bad, but it may help? Seems to help most ailments. You may want to cheat over the weekend to try and get back on track. Hang in there. I’ll be sending you good vibes for recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Your good vibes worked last night! I usually exercise six days/week. Since I’ve been back I think I only skipped one extra day, so that’s not too bad. I agree with you about the benefits of sticking to exercise, even when you don’t want to do it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, I’m sorry, this sounds terrible. I have no advice to offer because I am either too stubborn to admit when I have jet lag, or am part mutant. I generally have a 60-90 minute “catch up” when I return from a trip where I’m up earlier than usual, but I just continue with my normal daily schedule until that sorts itself out. I almost never have any change to schedule on the outbound, possibly because I’m excited for vacation and determined not to “waste” any of it on something as trifling as sleep. I hope this sorts itself out soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had a tough recovery on my first trip back from Asia as well, 12 hour time difference for me. I second the recommendation above for melatonin – take it about an hour before your desired sleep time and it will help reset your circadian rhythm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was going to buy some yesterday, but the husband said we had some. When it came time to take it we looked everywhere around the house and couldn’t find it. Sigh. Went to bed without but had a good night of sleep! Maybe I’m passed the worst of it?!?! One can hope!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know you are right, it is. I think its the door to door is the killer. Or bed to bed. You know how long are you awake or how long is between proper sleeps, from home to the end destination. Because you need to factor in getting to the airport, waiting time, flight etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been there. After our 20 months in Asia we both had the worst jet lag. It lasted for over 3 weeks, I think probably because we were there for so long. It’s supposed to be one day for each hour, but it was way more for us. Drink a lot of water and as you said you’re already exercising. Time heals all wounds 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well now you’ve done it, Miss Expert Traveler. Your body clock is spinning like a aged Timex that has fallen into a boiling soup kettle. All of the advice from your commentators is sound, but the bad news is that the ideas won’t actually work to overcome what is referred to medically as “ASS”, alien sleep syndrome. It was first diagnosed in conjunction with the Roswell aliens in 1947. Due to their disorienting travel across the galaxy, they lost control of their sleep patterns. They would stay awake for weeks at a time watching Sergeant Bilko reruns and laughing uproariously before collapsing into a coma-like state, again for weeks. The military was befuddled as to how to deal with ASS and kept the alien presence on our planet secret out of embarrassment.
    Having run out of TV reruns to show, the government shot the aliens back into space in a last ditch effort to address the ASS crisis. While this bit of history doesn’t really provide you with a solution to your 3:00 a.m. woes, it does bring to mind the old saying “Sometimes there is no answer other than a good ASS kicking.” Now go take a nap.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You were unlucky I think – you slept at a normal time on Saturday, but waking up in the middle of the night turned into a disaster. Normally, if I can get to bed at a normal time upon returning, I get on a schedule in a day or two. If there are naps or bouts of insomnia, I’m doomed for a week.

    Instead of laving Lao coffee in the middle of the night, you should have had the homemade Lao whiskey you took home by the barrel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good idea – or maybe Lao coffee spiked with Lao whiskey? Especially if the whiskey has a cobra steeping in it. Alas, the day we visited the “Whiskey village,” was the first day of our, um, intestinal problems. Thus, the husband could barely look at the bottles of whiskey, much less buy one. Incidentally, the jet lag is much better but I’ve come down with a wicked cold. #posttravelfun


    1. Thank you so much! I wouldn’t say east or west in any sort of definitive sense, but on this particular trip, coming home (going east) was much, much worse. Actually, now that I think about it, going (east) to Europe always seems worse than coming back to America, too…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Holy hell… that sounds awful. The worst time difference I’ve ever experienced was 7 hours. But I’m a chronic insomniac so I’m not sure I’d notice the difference of not sleeping properly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s been pretty nighmarish. I had a week of good night – bad night – good night – bad night, etc. The days were consistently tough. I think I’m mostly back to normal regarding jet lag, but I have been struck by a wicked cold. The husband is still contending with the jet lag and regularly goes to bed at 6:30!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Oh boy – Reading this post brought back painful memories of my own battle with jet lag after coming back from Australia and New Zealand. The early morning wake-ups, the mid-morning fatigue, the headaches, and the frustration. Not fun at all!!!

    How long did it take you to get back on a normal sleep schedule? I think it took me about 8 days, thought it felt like twice that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. About 8 or 9 days, so at least it didn’t last the two full weeks I was worried about. Still, it ran me down so much that I was totally vulnerable to illness and WHAM! I got clobbered by a really horrible cold about a week after we returned. Ended up having to take a day off of work, but I really should have taken two.

      Liked by 2 people

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