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As a flight attendant, I never have a normal sleep schedule. I am always traveling to different time zones and I always have different wakeup times. Sometimes I have to start work at 6am. Other times I don’t get off work until 6am (those darn redeye flights). I’ve quickly learned how to manipulate my sleep schedule based on when I have to work.
Whether you’re traveling across the country or across the world, jet lag can ruin the first few days of any trip. For example, say that you’re traveling to and from New York City to London. London is 5 hours ahead of New York– if you’re going somewhere with a much bigger time difference, you should prepare a few days in advance by adjusting your sleep schedule days prior to your trip.
When you fly to New York from London, you might feel like its 10pm when you land but its really only 5pm because of this time difference. I recommend staying up until your normal bedtime in the destination time zone if possible so you don’t feel off the rest of your stay.
The real problem, at least for me, is when you lose hours. I find it harder to go to sleep earlier than staying up later. Say you’re going to London from New York and you land at 11pm London time, and you still feel like its just 6pm. You’re having trouble falling asleep but you still need to wake up at 7am the next day.
I suggest you not sleep on the flight if you’re going to a place where the time is significantly later than where you started. Keep yourself awake by watching movies, playing games on your phone, doing work, or just listening to music. I wouldn’t drink caffeine to keep you from falling asleep on your flight because that could interfere with your sleep when you get to your destination.
Once you get to where you’re staying and still don’t feel tired, here are some of the things I use to naturally fall asleep:
1. The first thing I do when I get to a hotel is turn the temperature down to about 64 degrees. This may seem very cold for a lot of people, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 – 19.5 degrees Celsius) is the suggested temperature for optimal sleep.
2. Next I take a shower, which helps with sleep because it lowers your core body temperature, which triggers your body to feel tired by slowing down metabolic activities (it’s also super relaxing). Read more about it here.
3. After the shower I use essential oils as another sleep aid. My go-to is lavender essential oil. I put it on my pillow or on my wrists and temples. There have been many studies that prove the effectiveness of aromatherapy, specifically lavender oil, for sleep and other issues. There are also several other essential oils that can help with sleep.
4. Next I like to make myself some chamomile tea. Chamomile tea helps calm the body and induce sleepiness by relaxing blood vessels. Some people claim chamomile tea works better than prescription medications for anxiety and sleep. This is possibly because a certain compound in chamomile binds to the same receptors in the brain as a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, the types of medication often prescription for anxiety and sleep (Xanax and Valium are benzodiazepines).
5. I also supplement with magnesium and melatonin when I can’t sleep. Most people are actually deficient in magnesium. There are so many symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, which can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, and sleep disturbances- all which can obviously lead to inability to fall asleep. Magnesium (like chamomile) binds to receptors in the brain and helps activate neurotransmitters that help calm the body and mind. It also helps regulate melatonin.
Melatonin is the hormone that guides the sleep-wake cycles in your body. The body starts to naturally produce melatonin when the sun goes down- or when it’s dark. Artificial indoor light can prevent the release of melatonin, that’s why it’s important to sleep in complete darkness and not look at screens, like your phone, before bed. I only take melatonin supplements if I’ve tried everything else and still can’t sleep because it’s better not to take it too frequently. Also, people tend to take a much bigger dose than they need. Supplements are often sold in 3 milligram tablets, which is much higher than the ideal sleep dose of 0.3 – 1 mg. I never take more than 1 mg at one time. I have in the past and it actually caused me to stay awake longer. Taking more than recommended can also cause you to feel groggy and have trouble waking up the next day. The more you take it the less effective it becomes, so avoid taking this unless you really need it.
6. Lastly, I always sleep listening to white noise. White noise helps drown out sounds that could prevent you from falling asleep. When I’m not home with my sound machine, I use the app Rain Rain. This app has all different types of white noise sounds to choose from. I personally use the “forest rain” sound every night. If I’m in the room with or around other people who don’t want to listen to it, I just sleep with headphones in. You can also get a portable sound machine to take with you anywhere.
These things have really helped me fall asleep naturally and therefore minimize the affects of jet lag. If you have any more tips please feel free to leave a comment and let me know!