Menachem's Writings

The Human Cost of International Travel -- Jet Lag

It didn't used to bother me when I was younger, but over the last few years jet lag has been driving me nuts. In my youth, I'd fly into an airport somewhere, anywhere, and stay awake until the evening in the new location. I'd go to sleep very tired, and then, from the next morning, continue on with life, read sleep habits.

On the first morning after my arrival in New York two weeks ago, I awoke at 6:15 a.m. As much as I tried, I couldn't fall asleep again. My hosts were still fast asleep for a couple more hours. Even meditation did not induce sleep. But since I went to bed at 11:00, the night before, I had had a good night's sleep. I got out of bed and started writing.

I thought perhaps I wasn't going to suffer jet lag on this trip. I had taken the day flight from Ben Gurion, so perhaps not missing a night of sleep was going to hold me in good stead. Forget it! The next morning I awoke at 3:30, the following one at 4:30. Just no way I could disconnect my body into sleep.

At this rate, I would have expected to perhaps "sleep in" until 5:30 the following day -- that would be an OK effort -- a normal night of sleep. But alas, before hitting the sack on the fourth day, I flew three further time zones to the west, to San Francisco. On my first morning in California, I was wide awake before 5 a.m. (8 a.m. New York time, 3 p.m. in Israel -- round and round spins the world).

A week in the Bay area, and I was waking around 6:00 a.m. Not too bad, though I had no reason to rise that earlier. Shops don't open until ten.

Back in New York, I was a little better adjusted. Flying east usually is better -- at least for me, or rather for my circadian clock. Up at six each day, including Shabboth. Jet lag doesn't know from days off -- it is an equal opportunity bully.

The sleep problem stems from the fact that our biological clock ticks at 25 hours a day. Hence it's called the circadian clock, from the Latin, circa dium, about a day. Certain environmental signals, predominantly sunrise, daily readjust your internal clock. It seems an hour is the maximum my body can handle.

Then back home, to Israel. Monday night, the first evening back we celebrate a family wedding. So I only got to bed after 1 a.m. (6 p.m. NYC time -- an early night!) Very tired. Sleep like a baby, until 9:30 the next morning! Even roll over in the middle of the night wondering in which continent I am located, which bed am I in? Great! Yes, flying east is certainly better.

Or so I thought. Then why the hell am I penning these words at 4 a.m.? Simply because I was sick of staring at the ceiling in the dark room from 2:30. It does get rather boring. I starting thinking about what I wanted to write. I haven't written a word since the first day in New York. I was outlining the two pieces which I am now simultaneously writing. To heck with it. Why outline in my mind when I'm so wide awake? I may as well go downstairs and write.

So that's why writing at this unearthly hour. It is after all only 9 p.m. on the U.S. east coast, or am I still on west coast time?

I think on the first night in a new location, I get a solid night's sleep -- my tiredness overcomes my biology. But then the clock takes over.

The Moslem minaret on yonder hill has just started calling the faithful to prayer. I guess I am now not the only one awake. I wonder how many faithful attend premorning prayers in Beit Fajjar.

Of course more people than the worshippers and I are awake in my area, though it is very quiet outside. Our soldiers are awake, manning their guard posts, chasing terrorists who too are awake, or dropping in on undesirables while they sleep with their wives and girlfriends.

4:45 and the paper boy just threw some newspapers at a few houses in my street -- he starts early. Why bother? No-one's awake to read anything now.

I guess he too has a day-job to attend.


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