a plane flying across a map with a low battery behind it

Jetlag and Sleep-Onset Insomnia: Part Two, Eastward Travel

Last updated: September 2022

Insomnia is never really seen as an advantage, is it? Usually, we do everything to focus on how awful it is, in order to fuel our efforts to 'fix' the problem. Traveling is often a challenge, especially considering recovering from jetlag with insomnia.

Even if you get to do 'awake time' things – because you're wide awake whether you like it or not at times when others are sleeping – it usually results in unrecoverable fatigue. These "awake time' activities usually occur early in the morning or late at night.

In normal circumstances, this is not ideal!

Westward travel

In my recent article, I discussed how my previous sleep-onset insomnia was an advantage when it came to having holidays where I had to fly west. I was flying from the United Kingdom to the East Coast of the United States. Losing those 5 hours and arriving at bedtime meant I could spend time with family that I couldn't have if I were not someone dealing with insomnia! If I didn't have insomnia, I'd fall asleep when I got there!

Flying east is a different story, though.

Eastward travel

When flying east from the East Coast of North America to the UK, there are many flights that are 'overnight' or 'red-eye' flights. The idea is we board the plane and sleep 'overnight' (based on the time of day at the destination). Following a night of sleeping on the plane, you arrive first thing in the morning.

'Red-eye' flights

These flights are called 'red eyes' because you arrive at the airport with...red eyes. Many do. Red-eye flights are often fine for those who can sleep on a plane. But, I am not 1 of those people – and I have never been.

My partner can take a red-eye flight, sleep the whole way, and then sit down at his desk and work a full day. But for me, the eastward travel kills me. I can't sleep on the plane. Even if I were able to get to sleep, my sleep-onset issues would have made it impossible to get more than a small amount of sleep.

Arriving exhausted

So, I arrive...sleep a couple of hours...work the day.

At home, I am now 5 hours ahead of where I was on my trip. So, my body is telling me it's dinnertime when I really need to try to be asleep. After all, I have to be up in the morning. I then lay there worrying about sleeping, which of course, keeps me awake. This continues to add to sleep-onset issues on top of staying awake due to jetlag.

Recovering from jetlag with insomnia

Recipe for the next morning: double the tiredness! One dose of exhaustion from not sleeping PLUS 1 dose from my circadian system. My body was telling me I should be sleeping rather than running to catch a train for work.

Jetlag makes my eastward travel recovery over a weeklong process, which is a not-so-fun way of extending my holiday.

What's the biggest amount of jetlag you've gotten over and how long did it take you?

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