The best sleep is jet-lagged sleep, if you can hold out to where it’s time for bed. It’s the closest experience I have to sleeping “like the dead,” as the saying goes. On a normal night, I believe myself to be a light sleeper.
But really, I have to insist everyone give jet-lagged exhaustion sleep a try. It’s like passing out into the darkest sleep imaginable. And if you wake up before your body wishes it, you can literally close your eyes and pass right back out. It drags you in like stones on your eyes. If I had to make a comparison, it’s like being put under before surgery.

This is a poor comparison for one reason: the dreams you get during jet-lagged sleep are the most tactile. You won’t be able to remember more than a snippet of them, though. I keep a dream journal, and have developed means of remembering my dreams. They don’t work for this kind of exhaustion. There has been nothing more fruitless than trying to recall all the things I promised myself to remember when I woke up again.

I remember sharks, an industrial city, and an angel with tinfoil wings. That’s not just one dream. That’s from three days worth of deep, circadian resetting sleep. Drat.

And there is a danger here as well. I started by saying the sleep is great if you can hold out for bedtime. This is not always easy. Jet lag is like suffering from an immediate onslaught of pure exhaustion. I would put jet lag sleep at the top of seductive powers – our bodies are almost helpless to its siren call of sleep. So, you can have the most wonderful deep sleep of your life, but if you time it wrong your body will be off its game for days. Give in to a “nap” of six hours in the middle of the day, you’ll wake up at 2am bright-eyed and ready to be totally screwed the next day.

You must, MUST….MUST stay awake when the sun is out. And you must (must, though perhaps not as strongly) stay in bed until the sun is up. You can stay up late, sure, but have a bedtime. A week ago, fresh off a 13 hour time change, I felt the pull of sleep at around 9pm. This is a decent time to go to bed when resetting a body clock. I was with friends at the time, however, and chose to power through. That’s how, at 4am and wide awake, I finally went to bed for a few hours before sort of waking up to do more traveling the next morning. I not only didn’t have enough sleep to reset my clock, I had allowed my old body time to wreck my chances of resetting. I promptly passed out at 6pm that day, and the room didn’t stop spinning.

As uncool as it may be, you go to bed once the sun is down, and you don’t sleep when it’s up.  It’s also good to walk around and get the blood moving. That’s how you break jet lag – you can also take meds, but I don’t like taking them. It’s more empowering to wrestle with this beautiful demon than to ignore him with drugs. I’ve won more rounds than I’ve lost, anyway.

Need further proof? Here’s my sad conclusion:
It’s 2:13am. I slept till 1pm yesterday – in my defense, I didn’t sleep more than an hour on the 15 hour flight from Detroit to Shanghai. I left at 6am on a Thursday, and landed at 9pm on the following Friday. I fell asleep around 10pm on Friday. I woke up at 1pm on Saturday, and spent the day in a chair reading. I did not so much as nap. At 8pm I got dinner, and at 9:30pm I fell asleep again. I woke up at 1:30 – bright awake, eyes popping open. I prayed it was at least 4am (wish not granted). I will go an lie down again when I am done writing this.

Even if I don’t sleep deeply, I am going to follow my rules. Because while I let jet-lag have his way with me on my vacation, I’m not giving him the courtesy twice in a row.


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