Lying awake at 2:41 AM last night, I began my recent mantra, “You want to sleep. You are tired. Close your eyes, stop thinking. My mind is the master of this body!” Crossing five time zones and sleeping in 11 different beds over the last six weeks can really upset normal sleep. I play this little game to overcome jetlag, sometimes I’m victorious, other times not. The victory isn’t sleep necessarily, it’s sleeping/waking at times that are reasonable for the time zone. Going to bed at 9 PM last night, was not a marker of success, but rather, me being too lazy to fight sleep any longer.
It’s always easier going west than it is going east, at least for me. When traveling west, I stay away the entire flight watching movies or listening to podcasts, maybe nap for an hour or two. I arrive at my destination, tired for sure, but if I can keep myself awake until 9 or 10 PM, I’ll wake up at 6 or 7 AM on a mostly normal schedule from there on out.
Going east is trickier. It is necessary to sleep on the plane, but not always possible. There are a lot of factors involved that one cannot always control.
- Factor 1: time of departure. Flights to Amsterdam or Paris, my usual destinations, leave at 5 or 7 PM; the latter is infinitely better for sleeping than the former.
- Factor 2: the window, aisle, or the god-forbid-middle seat conundrum. Now that Delta Airlines is making you pay extra for an aisle or window seat, things are dicier – you don’t know what will be available. Overall, aisle seats can be more comfortable, but I’ve decided for sleeping, I prefer windows – no one bothers you to get up for the restroom if you are the window seat, you can lean against the wall for added comfort and space, and there is a bit of room now between the seat and window for storing your shoes/water bottle so that you can extend the legs/knees under the seat in front of you.
- Factor 3: sleeping upright. I am a whiplash head-bobber; when my head starts to sink while sleeping, I whip it back into place (I’ve definitely startled a few seatmates doing this). I’ve tried neck pillows, but it seems my neck is longer than average and they only come up about midway offering me no support. The best product I’ve found that works for me is the Trtl – think ambulance-type neck brace wrapped in fleece.
- Factor 4: meals eaten throughout the day. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to remember to not drink coffee the days I fly east. I also try to eat something heavy to encourage sleep. Occasionally something I ate will give me heartburn or provide my body too much energy, meaning little sleep.
- Factor 5: the wildcards. These range from a colicky baby in the surrounding rows, medical emergencies (yes, this happens, experienced my second of these on the trip back to Kazakhstan), loud talkers or snorers, aisle lurkers (for some reason people often decide standing next to my seat looking down at me is a great place to stretch their legs), turbulence, how I slept and how many hours I slept the night before flying, and more. One cannot predict these things, but a well-equipped travel arsenal can help with some (Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones are worth every penny!).
After traveling from Kazakhstan to Thailand, Thailand to Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan to Minneapolis (via Amsterdam), Minneapolis to Alaska, Alaska to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Northern Minnesota, Northern Minnesota to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Michigan, Michigan to Minneapolis, and Minneapolis to Kazakhstan (via Amsterdam and Almaty)…just lost my train of thought there. On the return flight east to Kazakhstan, Factors 1-4 were all in my favor – 7:38 PM departure, window seat for the 8-hour overnight flight, proper neck support, and no coffee throughout the day and Chinese before taking off. Factor 5 played out on my two longest flights – medical emergency on first flight = check; a plane full of frustrated babies on the second = check. I slept some, but not as much as I’d have liked.
Getting home at 4 AM just in time for the blinding Astana sunrise did not help with normal sleep and I was up again at 7:30 AM. The 11-hour time difference between Astana and Minneapolis should be more difficult to adjust to, but for some reason it strengthens the mind’s resolve to try to sleep or stay awake. I felt very lazy the first two days after getting home and didn’t have the energy to fight. Today is a new day, however, and I’ll be chanting my reverse mantra, “You want to stay awake. You are not tired. Open your eyes, start thinking. My mind is the master of this body!”
After taking a few weeks off for travel, I hope to get some stories and photos of my recent trips up soon—stay tuned!