Can't sleep? Ways to help you feel rested when traveling

By Laura Vasquez, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 28, 2013

Do you ever find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night, yet falling asleep during briefings after a day of traveling? You are probably experiencing jet lag. Jet lag is a common sleep disorder that occurs when crossing time zones and disrupts the body's natural "biological clock" that tells you when to sleep and when to stay awake. Jet lag is a significant concern for Soldiers, civilians and retirees that travel often for temporary duty assignments deployments or permanent change of station moves. It can take several days to several weeks to adjust for jet lag's effects, leaving the traveler feeling fatigued and prone to accidents related to insufficient sleep.

Sufficient (six to eight hours a night), healthy sleep is one of the Army surgeon general's top priorities for building and sustaining good Soldier and family member health through the "Performance Triad." Sleep, along with a focus on healthy activity and nutrition, is one of the three legs of the triad.

Lack of sleep impedes mission readiness. Incidents of friendly fire and navigational errors have occurred as a result of a lack of sleep. Insufficient sleep also contributes to motor vehicle and machinery-related accidents or deaths in the military and the general population. Sleepiness impairs the ability to think clearly, perform complex mental tasks, form memories and solve problems. Going 24 hours without sleep is comparable to being legally drunk in all 50 states.

Sleep is a restorative process necessary for muscle repair, memory consolidation, appetite control, hormonal growth and regulation, and is a part of a healthy immune system. Adequate quality and quantity of sleep allow you to wake up feeling refreshed and alert for the day. Sleep is a necessity to perform well and is as crucial to mission readiness as fuel, food and fire power.

Fortunately, there are some actions you can take to minimize the effects of lack of sleep from jet lag and its impact on performing your duties:

Tips for travelers from the National Sleep Foundation:

1. Choose flights that allow early evening arrival. Stay up until 10 p.m. local time.

2.Prepare for time zone changes. Wake up and go to bed earlier several days prior to an eastward trip, or wake up and go to bed later for a westward trip.

3. Limit daytime naps. If you must nap during the day, limit the nap to less than two hours in the early afternoon.

4. Change your watch to the destination time zone upon boarding the plane.

5. Bring earplugs and blindfolds to block out unwanted noise and sound while sleeping.

6. Avoid alcohol or caffeine three to four hours before bedtime. Both act as stimulants that interfere with sleep.

7. Avoid heavy meals upon arrival at destination.

8. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

9. Get some sun. Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock. Staying indoors worsens jet lag.

10. Talk to you doctor about sleep aids. There are several over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids that can be taken short-term to minimize jet lag's effects.

So next time you're on the move, take these tips with you to snag a better night's sleep.

Related Links:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Sleep Foundation