My Worst Trip EVER In Terms Of “Jetlag”

Filed Under: Travel

I’m not someone who typically struggles with jetlag too badly. In my case that’s very different than adjusting to local time, though. As I’ve explained before, when I travel I always have my day overlap with the US east coast business day, given that it’s when I’m busiest. So if I’m in China I’ll typically be at my computer from 7PM until 2AM, for example. It sucks, but it’s a small price to pay for being able to work from anywhere in the world.

Personally my favorite timezone is 5-6 hours ahead of the US east coast, which includes most European timezones. I love it because I can sleep in (as much as I can — I’m a morning person nowadays), sightsee in the morning, and then start working in the early afternoon. Then I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and start it all over again. It’s pretty ideal for my schedule.

When I landed in South Africa several days ago I realized that it’s in the same timezone as much of Western Europe, so it’s six hours ahead of the US East Coast. That makes sense when you think about it, but prior to my visit I hadn’t really conceptualized it.


“Yes, I’m in the best timezone in the world, this is going to be a breeze.” Or so I thought.

Well, unfortunately this has hands down been my worst trip ever in terms of jetlag. Like I said above, I typically have no issues adjusting to the schedule I want to be on, but that hasn’t been the case here.

The first day I arrived, I was proud of myself for staying up all day rather than taking a nap, figuring that would help me adjust. I went to bed at 9PM (just as I would back in the US), and woke up at 2AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep. Like, really really couldn’t sleep, and I tried hard.

I stayed up until 9AM, and then figured I’d nap a bit in hopes of adjusting. When napping, I find it makes sense to do so in the first half of the day, so it doesn’t interfere with sleep at night.

Well, that made things even worse. Ever since I’ve been sleeping from 10PM until 2AM and then from 8AM until 12PM. No matter how hard I try, I can’t break the pattern. Grrrr!


I don’t remember the last time I’ve been this frustrated by being unable to adjust to my preferred time schedule.

Like many things in life, I suspect this is largely mental, given that the first thing I said when I landed was “this is going to be easy, it’s the same timezone as Frankfurt.”

Do you ever have trips where you just can’t adjust to local time?

  1. Last year i travelled from london to tokyo non-stop, which was a good 9 or so hours ahead of us in the uk. So when i landed at 8 o’clock local time i could not sleep at all – i was too busy enjoying my flight, as my company bumped me up to first class! When i landed i was hoping to get some sleep as i had a business meeting the next day – but i couldn’t even start to get tired before the next morning! I was sleeping through all of my meetings. Then what? I had to take a plane to seoul before flying to addis ababa and then to new york! what the f-ing hell?!?! why didn’t my boss just send me to nyc in the first place! It was manic.

  2. Well… I’m like that in most of my adult life. Bed/Sleeping-10PM Awake 2AM to 4AM Awaken by alarm at 6AM… If no alarm, I sleep till 10-11AM .. so if someone has an answer why I wake up at 2AM like clockwork, I’m listening.

  3. Adjusting Eastwards is Always more dificult! I have that experience. But you get used to it. I fly about +500;000 miles a year for Business for almost 20 years and I’m almost never more than 24h at my destination. Always First flight Out/First Flight in. So I try to always have my clock on my hometown time and live like that. But I understand, your purposal of flying is diferent than mine. Anyway, have fun over there, CPT is great!

  4. it’s called getting older and it sucks! i’ve been doing JFK-HKG/SIN regularly for 10 years now. my most recent journey back from HKG to JFK in april was the worst jet leg i’ve ever had in my life. felt like i was going crazy and was sleeping at all sorts of odd hours. even doing a quick JFK-DXB-BOM run in january didn’t affect me as badly.

    part of it is mental but the majority of it is your body just can’t keep up!

  5. Humans used to sleep in 2 separate bouts. There is apparently a lot of historical evidence referring to a “second sleep” that would occur mid-morning. So maybe you’re just getting in touch with your ancestral self 🙂

  6. My husband and I both has jet lag that lasted for 10, yes 10, days on our last trip back from Asia. We had never experienced anything near that bad and we both had it exactly the same. Our best guess is that the flight back was entirely during daytime hours in Asia so we did not sleep at all (CX business class).

    Liquid Melatonin did the trick to finally end the misery, taking .5 mg at bedtime and then another does if we woke up during the night. Now I will always travel with it.

  7. I think the worst time I ever had was going to Iceland in the winter. When the clock in the hotel said 8am, it was pitch-black out. Sun didn’t rise until lunchtime. My body never left eastern time. On the plus side, it was the first time since college I’ve been able to stay out until 3am.

    For your current problems, I can only offer the obvious recommendations: get out in the sunshine to reset your circadian rhythm, and use benadryl and pseudoephedrine to force your body to act like it in the meantime.

  8. What about Ford? Is he jet lagged? Or he didn’t travel because of his shiny new “job”?

  9. I had jetlag for a week flying back from KUL to the east coast (JAL First). I was falling asleep dead tired at 6 PM and waking up 2 a.m. for about a week. It was ridiculous. Your body clock will reset at some point.

  10. I keep melatonin in my travel bag to help combat jetlag. Sometimes it helps a lot and sometimes it doesnt do anything.

  11. I have no problem staying awake but forcing myself to be tired is impossible.
    That’s where Melatonin and Xanax come in.

    I’ve managed an RTW ex-LHR with 1 day stops in JFK and LAX, then crossing the international dateline for 3 nights in CTS. This was followed by by 3 nights in LHR and then a return East to SIN and PVG for a long weekend.

    I then flew home from SIN to LHR on a Monday night and was in the office for midday on Tuesday.

    No problem. Whenever I was supposed to be sleepy I took the necessary pills. Whenever I was supposed to be awake, I took the necessary coffee 🙂

  12. I’m afraid it may just be getting older… I used to have no trouble at all with jetlag then I turned 32 and ever since then have had horrific jetlag any time I travel outside a 3-4 hour time difference. 🙁

  13. I’m traveling in MEL right now and I think it’s a combination of a long flight and the seasonal daylight changes for jumping from the Northern to Southern Hemispheres. My body was telling me it was much later as soon as it started to get dark out as I was walking around.

  14. Ben,

    You need to cut back on the travel every so often…these weekly trips are not good for your body. Maybe allow yourself a full month of NO travel?…just to give your body time to breathe a little and operate at normal levels consistently for a full moon cycle.

    Btw – Do you ever get radiation checks? Chi check?

    Steam Sauna’s are also good before and after.

  15. Three Points:
    1). No naps… period (esp. in the first three days)
    2). Keep the lights off at night. Even if you are awake, keep the room dark. (No cellphone, no laptop, no tv.)
    3). Ambien

    I travel from Los Angeles to Europe for business frequently and never deviate. Good luck!

  16. It’s flying east that kills. Regular traveller to Europe and Mid East from Sydney. Unfortunately the homeward flights arrive between 5 and 6 am. So one is dog tired from the travel and still have to stay up for a long time to return to Sydney hours. No easy answer to this problem. All solutions gratefully received

  17. @Deborah – Ambien is also my best friend for jet-lag. Always have it on hand.
    Europe is also the best zone for off the radar work. Sleep in and sight-see, roam … work from 3p-midnight.. ambien.. rinse and repeat

  18. Worst for me is always west coast to Ireland, landing in DUB around 7 or 8 am and struggling to stay awake until I usually crash around 4 or 5pm… Then it’s awake at 1 or 2am… Very hard cycle to break… Usually takes me a week or more (yes, really) to normalize and not feel like a zombie. Recently I went home for a two-week trip back to Ireland and the first week went by in a blur…

  19. Worst for me is going home (Sweden) from U.S. East coast, flight is to short to get enough hours of sleep. You feel “forced” to sleep as much as possible and not very easy when departure is 17-18:00…

    I really love the long hauls Europe – SA as time zone is the same or +1

    Enjoy Cape Town and don’t miss out on the winelands of Stellenbosch! Amazing food, wine and scenery! I’m a little sad for you as “Winter is coming” in SA 🙂

  20. I vote Melatonin as well. Never really had an issue with jet lag until I got older, so I now travel with chewy gummy Melatonin from CVS. 🙂

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