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Jet lag and time zones--West coast to France

Try as I might, I cannot seem to get my head around what my body will face traveling halfway around the world. My immediate question: should I try to sleep on the plane over or try to stay awake? We are leaving Portland, Oregon at 3:40 pm (Pacific Time), changing in Reykjavik at 6:15 am next day, and landing in Paris at 1:20 pm. My plan was to try and sleep on the first 7.5-hr flight, and then stay up until at least past dinner in Paris. Does that make sense?

Posted by
31521 posts

Michele,

You may or may not be able to sleep in the flights, as there are a lot of "variables". If you're in an aisle seat, your seat mate will be asking you to move every time they want to get up. You'll also have to contend with your legs being "bumped" every time the cart rolls down the aisle. If you're in a window seat, you will probably have to get up at least once. It's a good idea to exercise your legs a couple of times during long flights. On top of that, there will be announcements, meals and probably filling out your Customs card. I've never been too successful at sleeping on flights.

The usual recommendation is to get lots of fresh air and sunshine and try and stay awake until an early bedtime in your new time zone. I find that I usually have to take a "power nap" for an hour or so, which keeps me going until about 21:00.

I also travel from the west coast, so I know exactly what type of experience you'll be facing. My flights are typically direct to Europe from either Calgary or Vancouver, and arrive in Europe earlier in the day.

Good luck!

Posted by
20 posts

By all means, try to sleep on the plane as much as you can! You're missing a night of sleep and will be dragging for a day or two when you get to Paris. The best I can do (also from the west coast) is about 5 hours sleeping on a non stop flight. Drink all you can, because staying very hydrated seems to help. Also, for me at least, if I take a nap when I get there it takes longer to adjust to the new time, so just keep moving till an early bed time on your first day.

Posted by
21855 posts

Ah !!! the perpetual question. Get all the sleep you can on the plane. The travel section this past Sunday in the New York Sunday Times had an article addressing that question. Recommended the hour, an hour and a half, nap mid afternoon to recharge the batteries so that you can make it till 10pm or so along with staying activity in bright sunlight prior to the nap. We come from Denver and face an eight hour difference. It also is very helpful if you can do some time shifting. We always try to shift about four hours over the month prior. An hour a week. Up early, bed early, meal shift etc.

Posted by
729 posts

Absolutely, sleep as much as you can on your flights. I think the missed night of sleep is harder than the change in time zones. I try to have an early dinner and get to bed early on the day I arrive, with the aim to get up at a "normal time" the next day.

Posted by
2928 posts

When I lived in New York, I found jet lag harder to deal with than now because of the timing of the departure and arrival -- we would leave at around 6 PM and arrive in Paris at around 7 AM Paris time. For me that was nightmare because I have difficulty sleeping on planes and usually go to sleep at midnight or 1 AM and so I was arriving in Paris just when I really wanted to sleep. If I went to sleep, I would sleep for 7 hours and take days to adjust to Paris time. And there was the whole issue of hotel rooms not being available so I had to pay for an extra night to be guaranteed to have a room available at 10 AM. With the layovers that I now have to do for flights from SFO, arrival in the afternoon in Paris makes it much easier to adapt. By the time, you get your luggage and make your way to your accommodations and settle in, it should be a round 5 PM. At that point, you only have around 4 or 5 hours to kill before you can go to sleep for the night and get a good start on day 2. As to sleeping on the airplane, try to sleep on the connecting flight as well as the longer one. I still can't sleep on the longer flight but on the connecting flight, I am so tired that I do fall asleep and that sleep is what I think helps me stay up until 9 or 10 PM on day 1. It's the nap that I needed to take when I used to arrive from New York but always overslept when I tried. But, I can't oversleep on the airplane -- I don't have the discipline to wake up when I am in a comfy bed but, I can't keep sleeping on the airplane.

Posted by
13211 posts

Sleeping on the long overnight flight is a good plan, and it works for us with a 7 pm departure from Seattle. I settle in for sleep after dinner and usually manage 6 hours before they wake us up to get ready for landing in London.

The issue for you is that with a 15:40 departure time, you will not be ready for sleep for several hours. So you will likely only get 2-3 hours of sleep before the plane lands in Iceland and you have to change planes. 6:15 am there will still be 11:45 pm on your body clock. You can try to get back to sleep on the next flight, but it will be fairly short.

This is one reason we do not consider taking Iceland Air, although it is reputed to be a nice airline.

Posted by
5697 posts

Suggestion: for planning purposes, convert all the times to Pacific time and think how your body will feel when you land in Iceland, make the connection, board the second flight, and arrive in France.

Posted by
5697 posts

Suggestion: for planning purposes, convert all the times to Pacific time and think how your body will feel when you land in Iceland, make the connection, board the second flight, and arrive in France.

Posted by
4125 posts

Your plan makes sense. I would also add: Sleep is overated.

I would say that while sleep is ideal, the important thing is to shift your body to the local time. One way to do this is to tell yourself it's bed time and try to sleep on the plane.

Sometimes I sleep, but mostly not. But it's not a failure if I've spent that time near sleep, with a light-blocking sleep mask on, sleep or no.

I travel from the East Cost, but the principle is the same.

There are other things you can do involving diet and, if it works for you, melatonin.

Posted by
141 posts

Thanks to all for the advice. I had tried looking at flight times as Pacific time, and even diagrammed all the events out with the three different zones, but that wasn't as helpful as your firsthand reports. To sum up: partially adjust to the new time zone a few weeks before if possible, sleep as much as possible on one or both flights (an eye mask may help), stay hydrated, upon arrival get lots of fresh air and sunshine and stay up to an early Paris bedtime. Opinions seem to be divided on naps, so we will play that by ear--a short nap only if it's absolutely necessary. Good point about it not being a failure if one doesn't sleep; rest does help even if sleep does not come.

Posted by
3336 posts

For me....all that matters is the arrival time.
My body works best when I arrive mid-afternoon, have dinner, and go to bed right away and force myself to stay in bed until morning. I stay awake on the plane so that I will sleep. Once I wake up the next day I'm pretty good...I usually hit a bit of a wall about 4 in the afternoon but I have some coffee and power through. By the second day I'm completely over the jet lag.

Posted by
784 posts

I live in Seattle, so have the same situation as you when flying to Europe. I never sleep on the plane. At the most I may shut my eyes for 10 minutes or so. A few years ago when I had to change planes in Amsterdam, I didn't sleep at all on the first flight, but slept like a log on the 60 minute flight to Paris. I always change my watch to my destination time as soon as the plane gets off the ground, which helps me get mentally prepared. I drink lots of water in flight, but avoid alcohol (well, maybe a glass of wine, if I'm lucky enough to fly Business Class). I usually arrive in Paris fairly early and it is late morning when I get into the city. I try to keep active, settle in to my apartment or hotel, buy groceries, explore my neighborhood, have a nice lunch. I try to stay up until 9:00, but will still wake up about 3, read for awhile, and go back to sleep. That routine will repeat itself for two or three nights before I am completely acclimated. I'malways so excited to be in Paris that the jet lag doesn'the bother me much. I find re-entry after getting back home a lot harder.

Posted by
12988 posts

Hi,

When I fly Air France SFO to Paris, it departs ca 3:30 pm. It is a direct flight lasting 10.5 hrs or so. I sleep on the flight, it varies, sometimes very well, say 6.5 hrs Then it's no problem. On other flights such as this last one SFO to Frankfurt I got only 4 hrs max of sleeping. My advice is to sleep is much as possible, whenever you can. Usually after dinner falling asleep is the easiest. Don't try staying awake. I don't get jet lag, but think of it this way: if you do get jet lag, it's better to deal with it having slept than not.

Posted by
1584 posts

I am in the arrival mid afternoon camp. I do not sleep on planes even if I am in first class. I like to arrive between 2 and 4 PM if at all possible. I don't nap after arrival. I stay up until 9 or 10 and I usually sleep well.

I refuse to take a flight that gets me to Europe at 7 AM or so. I don't do jetlag very well!

Posted by
9917 posts

I think napping when you get to your destination is something you should play by ear.

I arrived in Paris yesterday at 8:30, got to my hotel at 11:00, dropped my bags, then returned to check in about 1. I was really pooped as I had left small town Idaho at 5:15A on Thurs, so napped longer than recommended (about 4 hours) then back out for a few more hours. I woke at 3:30A ONLY because I forgot to turn off the darned alarm from where I had to get up on my departure day!!

So, on arrival day I take a nap if needed and try to plan things near my hotel in case I have a sinking spell, lol!!

Have a wonderful time. It'll work however it works and each time it is slightly different for me depending on a lot of variables.

Posted by
5515 posts

I always try to sleep on planes because they are boring! Nothing better than falling asleep, waking up, and noticing that 2-3 hours of boredom have passed with very little pain. I think you just have to accept that you will feel somewhat tired and out of sorts the first few days. I do try to stay up and be active until after an early dinner. One key reminder: You may not be at your brightest this day. Take extra care if making any transactions involving money.

I think if you decide in advance that you are going to handle jet lag, you will do just fine. The tips about hydration are good, and your plan sounds good to me.

Posted by
2927 posts

Unfortunately, I never sleep on planes. I wish I could. In the recent past I've had two overnight flights, which involved connections at Heathrow. The first overnight flight I had no problem at all staying up all day, in fact, I outdid the 'young ones'. The second flight was awful...so bad I was sick the first day. Jet lag or an overnight flight fatigue has never quite been the same for me. Often, I will do a short nap, sometimes not. I hate the feeling of being up all night and exhausted and now do anything I can to avoid it. If I'm traveling alone or with my DH, I now definitely take the day flight from Boston to London, stay overnight at the Sofitel/T5 and catch my connection in the late morning after a lovely night's sleep in a real bed so I guess I ease into European time now. I guess that would mean I would take another day to fly from CA to the east coast just so I wouldn't have to sit up in a chair all night. Fortunately, I can take all the time I want to get somewhere now that I have graduated from employment. I can now be a traveler every minute rather than just when I arrive at my destination. Best of luck figuring your best system out! Wray

Posted by
2329 posts

I travel from SFO, each time I choose times similar to yours (though I connect through Frankfurt if needed, and for Paris I had a direct flight) and usually nap a bit on the plane. I plan a first day of some low-key activities and orientation walks, and usually go to bed around 9. Next day I'm refreshed and perky. I do the same coming home--try to arrive in early to midafternoon, time to unpack and tidy up, in bed by 8 or 9.

Posted by
21855 posts

I think the key to the afternoon nap and supported by other sources is to keep the nap under two hours. We always set the alarm for two hours but seem to always wake up after an hour and half or so. We use to follow the gut it out and staying awake till evening. Sometime it was a real problem and make the later afternoon, early evening somewhat miserable. The nap, for us, sort of recharges the batteries and can have a great evening till about ten oclock. We now use the nap faithfully.

Posted by
345 posts

We try to sleep on the plane as much as possible. We have now started purchasing the Delta Economy Comfort seats for the additional leg room and supposedly wider seats (don't really think so). Since we are flying at night, usually everyone does try to sleep.

When we arrive, we try to check into the our hotel if staying in Paris or get our rental car and drive for one or two hours. Then we go to our hotel, take a nap, get up, shower and then go out for an early dinner. Since we usually go to bed between 9-10:00pm, we follow that same principle.

I actually find that returning from Europe is worse than going. You are flying during the day and want to sleep/nap but there are the meal and movie interruptions. One of worst return flights involved a noisy group of students who were returning from Europe. There were chaperones but they were quite ineffective for keeping the group fairly quiet. Again, not able to sleep/nap.

When we return, we are still on European time. For example, our flight in October will arrive in Minneapolis at 5:35 pm. We then need to go through customs, collect luggage, leave the airport and go to the car park. At this point, it is quite a bit past midnight for our body time. Since we live about 3 1/2 hours from the airport, we will drive home. By now, we are really tired and tomorrow will come much too early. My packed suitcase will probably stay on my bedroom floor for several days. :( I just pull stuff out for when it is needed. Luckily, I can do this because I am retired. I remember the return from a great trip, driving from Minneapolis to Des Moines and being involved in a political rally for work and then driving four hours to return home. Not good!

strong text Does anyone else have any good tips as to how to better adjust to our return to the States?

Posted by
141 posts

For our return trip, we will be arriving in Portland, Oregon at 9 pm, and we also have a 3 1/2 hour drive home, over the Coast Range. I decided even though I might be on European time and awake, I wasn't doing that drive at night after 3 flights (have to change in Iceland and Seattle). I booked a hotel room at the airport, figuring if we end up only taking what will for us at that point be a morning nap, so be it. Some rest is still going to be a good idea I think.

Posted by
4783 posts

Michele,

Back in 2001, on my second trip to Europe (from the West coast), I was completely exhausted upon arrival (due to lack of sleep), and all I wanted to do is sleep.
My mom who had slept on the plane (both flights), was ready to go & kept telling me that we had to stay awake as long as possible.

I tried to keep up, but by 4 or 5pm, my body didn't want anything but sleep, but then was wide awake at 3am & had difficulty getting back to sleep!

On subsequent trips, I always request an early check in at our first hotel, and we take a power nap lasting 2-3 hours. We then go walking around, eat an early dinner, go back to the hotel, take a warm shower & go back to sleep at around 9 pm. The following morning, we're ready to go!

So, my advice...

  1. Get plenty of sleep every night, but especially for a whole week,
    before your trip. By doing this, you will be well rested before your
    trip starts.

  2. Try to sleep on the plane, if you can.

  3. Stay well hydrated on the plane, but avoid alcoholic drinks.

  4. If you feel exhausted upon arrival, take a power nap, but make sure to set your alarm!

  5. Remind yourself that you will be feeling better after a good nights sleep.

  6. Eat some gelato or ice cream after dinner on your day of arrival :-)

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
31521 posts

Michele,

Given the fact that you have a 3.5 hour drive home after arrival at PDX, your plan to stop for a night in Portland is an excellent idea. Leave the drive until the morning when you're well rested.

I also find the time adjustment on the trip home to be more difficult, and it sometimes takes about a week before I start to feel normal.

Posted by
5756 posts

Lots of good advice above. I'll offer a bit more...

Everyone's different - what works for one won't necessarily work for you. Only one way to find out what your body needs.

That said, there's not much to do on the plane that's really a good use of your time, other than sleeping - if you can.

In my experience, your flight details can make a HUGE difference on what you experience for the first few days. Arrive wiped out and a complete mess, it can literally destroy the first part of your trip (I have done this too many times: stumble off the plane after being awake and stressed for 48 hours straight, head for the nearest bathroom and get violently sick...the first three days of my trip are a complete train wreck). Things that contribute to that unhappy outcome: #1: poor choice of flights (bad timing, too many stops and long layovers, miserable seat, nonstop screaming babies nearby, etc.); #2: being exhausted and stressed out from pre-trip tasks even before I get on the plane. A non-stop flight to Europe makes a huge difference (coming from the west coast this is hard, but it is possible).

Take a day off BEFORE you leave, and use that time to wrap up all the last details - don't go crazy tying up loose ends in the few hours before your flight, get packed a few days early, don't stay up all night wrapping up last minute stuff...be rested and calm before you head to the airport. Try to get some sleep on the plane.

And remember these six little words that will change your life: lay flat bed in business class. I have come to accept that arriving on the other side of the world feeling fresh, rested, happy and ready to hit the ground running actually "buys" me about 3 more usable days of my trip, and that's worth a lot to me. As opposed to arriving exhausted, sick, and miserable, which requires 3 days of "geospatial displacement recovery" before I can manage a museum or a cathedral.

Posted by
776 posts

I have trouble sleeping on the plane. I now have at least 1 audiobook in my tablet, which I listen to with my eyes closed. Sometimes I do nod off for a few minutes! At least my eyes had a bit of rest.

I have splurged on business class a couple of times. Last year KLM seats laid you down but the seat was not flat; a weird almost flat where I felt I was always slipping and propping myself up with my feet. Air Canada was a flat seat. I probably slept a bit but not much. Forcing myself to kerp my eyes closed with my audiobook in my ears did help me feel a bit sane.

I drink a ton of water on the flight. I am going to try to eat less and have some healthy-ish snacks with me.

Most of the time I take a short nap if I am totally bushed; I set the alarm for 30/40 minutes or I would sleep for hours! Then I get out and walk walk walk.

Each person is different; this is my experience.

Posted by
49 posts

I love the flight from Seattle on Iceland air that leaves at 9 am and gets in around midnight. Of course we always do the layover option because we have family there. (Highly recommend do that anyway...it's an amazing country!)
By the time we rented a car and got to the house...it was after 2 am Iceland time...but we got to go right to bed. We woke up at 9 am and felt great right away.
We used to only have the 6 am arrival...that was killer.

Posted by
5756 posts

I have splurged on business class a couple of times. Last year KLM seats laid you down but the seat was not flat; a weird almost flat where I felt I was always slipping and propping myself up with my feet. Air Canada was a flat seat. I probably slept a bit but not much.

With all of the information just a click away, there is no reason anyone should ever be at all surprised at what kind of a seat they will find themselves stuck in (or delighted to be in) for 10-15 hours on a plane. The seat you are about to purchase, or are about to subject yourself to, is described and reviewed in excruciating details on a hundred websites - all you have to do is lift a finger (literally) and go look at what you are about to get yourself in for. There are no surprises - just a lack of interest/motivation to know what you are about to do to yourself.

Not all seats are the same. Not even on the same route on the same airline. There are great seats, and there are horrible seats. You get to choose which kind you're going to spend a day or two (or three) in. If you end up in utter and complete misery, that's because of a choice you made (although you may or may not have noticed what you were choosing at the time if you were not paying attention - if the only thing you consider is the absolute lowest price...well, you got what you asked for). Sure, it's generally true that better seats cost more (sometimes a LOT more) but that is NOT universally true, some good seats cost no more. Then there's the whole question of stops, layovers, the timing of departure/arrival, etc. - many other facts that contribute to the degree of comfort or misery you experience. These variables are all up to you.

Me, I've spent enough of my life in a miserable airline seat, I'm done with that. If I'm taking a 90 minute business trip, or flying for 72 hours to some remote destination on the other side of the planet, you can bet that I have checked out every detail of every seat my butt will be in on that/those flights (plus fight schedule details, connections, layovers, etc.). The information is all easily available if you just bother to look. To me, this makes a tremendous difference. In a good seat, I'm happy. In a wide, comfy, true lay-flat business class seat, I can get 8 hours of quality sleep and arrive feeling great.

Everyone's different and of course should do what they think is best. But you DO have lots of options, whether you choose to consider them or ignore them, and there's an ocean of information about the seat you will be in - seems crazy to me to not know what you're getting yourself into before committing.

Posted by
3493 posts

And the hours you spend researching airplane seats and picking the exact flight with the exact truly lay flat seat you want ... all goes poof when the airline substitutes a different plane on your flight due to "operational difficulties". It has happened to me multiple times. I now just pick the flight that gets me there at what I consider a good time of day and if it has lay flat seats I am happy.

Posted by
12988 posts

Hi,

Doing the transatlantic flight from SFO or LAX, I know not only it will take 10 plus hrs if not closer to 11 hrs but am psychologically prepared for it since I know my seat is in Economy. I won't pay for anything else but that. Prepare yourself to sit, sleep for close to 11 hours in a sardine can plus putting up with the boredom. What can you expect in Economy? True, some airlines offer a more tolerable seat in Economy, or so it seems. Twice , at random, I lucked out, was upgraded to Business or Economy Plus..don't know exactly, pure chance. They just told me get up, follow them to the next seat which turned out to be more spacious, comfortable, more reclining, and all that. Both times that took place on Lufthansa SFO to FRA. The very first time was a real pleasant surprise since I was told at check-in that my seat would be in the Business section. I much prefer the flight going over to be direct so that my chances of getting more sleep are greater.

Posted by
5697 posts

What Mark said -- sad, but true. I carefully got us 2-across economy seats for SFO-CDG months in advance, only to have the airline change equipment so we were aisle-and-middle on a 3-across. Luckily, I was checking the reservation before flight date and noticed the change, so was able to switch to a pair of aisle seats. He stays awake the whole time, I sleep most of the way.

Posted by
31521 posts

Michele,

If you never taken a long international flight, I was going to mention one more thing. By the end of the flight, the cabin will start to resemble a land fill in some places, with rubbish all over the floors, etc. The washrooms will also become less "attractive" as the flight progresses and I always try to avoid using them (if possible) towards the end of the flight. Of course, if you can afford business class, these issues will be less pronounced.

Posted by
141 posts

Thanks all for your replies. A lot of good information is being shared in this thread, but I booked my flights a long time ago, and selected my seats a long time ago, and business class is not an insignificantly extra amount of money for me, so there is nothing to be done there. Maybe I picked a bad flight, maybe I picked a good flight, maybe I paid too much (or too little some might say apparently), maybe I should have booked a stopover--but I did the best I could and it's done. I am new to travel to Europe, so although all the information needed to find the perfect flight and perfect seat might be available online, all that information, as well as the accompanying stories of terrible experiences, can be overwhelming. I am trying to find the best way to work with the arrangements I have, and appreciate the practical suggestions of how to do so. I have traveled quite a bit domestically, and I am generally able to sleep on planes in economy class. But for extra help I even bought an eyemask today, as per previous suggestions.

Posted by
5756 posts

Eyemask - check. Also do not forget GOOD quality foam earplugs (not expensive, quite cheap actually, but with high decibel ratings - look for 32ish), and if you've never used ear plugs before, practice inserting them since it requires proper technique to make them really effective. I'm a light sleeper and never leave home without em.

Posted by
4595 posts

Try to nap on the plane, if possible. I take a pair of noise-cancelling headphones with a cheap Ipod shuffle to listen to quiet music that will help lull me to sleep.

Before you board the plane, bring a bottle of water. There are times I wake up and am extremely thirsty, and it reminds me to stay hydrated.

For me, I do much better if I walk, walk, walk outside after I arrive. My hubby needs a short nap. If that's the case for you, Paris is a great location to walk around!

We change our watch as soon as we board to European time - no "What time is it in Portland right now?" questions. : )

We force ourselves to stay up until 8pm and then go to sleep, usually wake up in fairly good shape. Avoid any indoor museums, etc. the first day after you wake up, too.

Posted by
489 posts

Also do not be afraid of taking a Tylenol PM or some other "drowsy" med, that can kick in the sleepiness and relax you. I agree with the staying in the sun and fresh air as much as possible the first few arrival days. Set alarm so as to not over nap. On one trip to Greece, we landed late in afternoon and walked around, then had dinner and went to bed only to sleep 1-2 hr and be awake and could not sleep at all. Finally, convinced my hubbie to go to breakfast at 6 am. Then was so tired. Slept until 8 am when a tour was to start. Managing jet lag is now one of my passions. Also start getting on the arrival time a few weeks ahead if at all possible.