What is Jet Lag Really Like?

My grandma LaVerne used to travel for work, and she claimed that there was no such thing as jet lag. She had some kind of mind-over-matter secret that kept her functioning no matter the time zone. Sadly I have not taken after her in this respect; My jet lag tends to sneak up on me and then keep me in its grasp as long as it can.

If you’ve never done a trip across a vast multitude of time zones, you might be wondering, “Is jet lag really that big of a deal?” Well that depends on the person. I’m about to share with you my personal experience of jet lag on a recent trip from US Central Standard Time (Wisconsin) to Central European Standard Time (Switzerland). Keep in mind I am an early bird who likes 8hrs of sleep a night and whose body likes to be up at the same time every day no matter what I try to do to influence it.

Switzerland (going from West to East)

Day One

-First flight leaves Chicago at 4:30pm local time.

-I take a “less drowsy” Dramamine and start watching in-flight movies.

-About 2 hours in, dinner is served.

-A little bit later my eyes are feeling a bit heavy, so I try to take a nap.

-I sleep for about 4 hours with occasional waking to readjust my body into a slightly less uncomfortable position.

Day Two

-I wake on the flight to breakfast being served about an hour before landing.

-Second short flight is 10:30am local time, and I nap for a short bit of it.

-We get lost trying to find our Zurich hotel in the rain and are extra cranky due to lack of a good night’s rest.

-We go about the day trying to stay energized.

-At the hotel for the night around 5pm local time.

-I fall asleep around 7pm. (Kevin is asleep even earlier, but watches a movie in the middle of the night and then goes back to sleep.)

Day Three

-Somehow we both sleep until 7:15am! 12 hours, is that even possible??


-In bed around 10pm. Woohoo, maybe we are already adjusted, we think! (False.)

Day Four

-The jet lag rears it’s ugly head, and I am wide awake at 4am after 6 hours of sleep.

-I waste time with the wifi on my phone for about 2 hours.

-Fall back asleep for about 2 more hours, and finally both of us are awake at 8:15am. Not too bad!


-I didn’t write down what time we went to sleep this night in my journal, so it must have been reasonable. I’d guess around 9pm.

Day Five

-Awake around 7am.


-Can’t fall asleep at a normal-for-me time. Insomnia at the beginning of the night is extremely rare for me.

Day Six

-Awake at 4am. Not enough sleep. 🙁


-Asleep around 8pm.

Day Seven

-Awake at 4am, but able to fall back asleep this time.

-Awake again at 7am.

-Asleep at 8pm


*I will save us all some time here and say that from here on, it was a combination of waking up around 4am, sometimes falling back to sleep until around 7am, and going to bed between 8pm-10pm. I stayed an extreme early bird for the rest of the trip.

Wisconsin (going from East to West)

Day One

-We wake in Zurich at 5am.

-Our first flight leaves Zurich 7:30am local time.

-Second flight leaves Madrid 11:30am local time.

-Lunch is served about an hour after takeoff.

-I try to nap and get a couple hours sleep on and off.

-We arrive in Chicago at 2:30pm local time.

-Drive the three hours home to Wisconsin.

-I am in bed by 7pm.

Day Two

-I wake up at 1am after only 6 hours of sleep and I am unable to get any more ZZ’s.

-1-hr nap at 4pm.

-I cannot keep eyes open and am asleep in bed by 6:30pm.

Day Three

-Wake up at 4:30am after 10 hours of sleep (not including that nap)!!

-Successfully stay up until 9pm!

Day four

-Awake at 3am, 6 hours total.

-I fall asleep on the couch after dinner and have a 2-hr nap.

-In bed around 9pm.

*After several more days of progressively less extreme versions of this pattern, I am finally back on my normal sleep schedule.

In case you skimmed all that…

In summary:

Despite what you might expect, the first day is usually not my worst. No matter which direction I have gone, it’s usually easy for me to sleep that first night because I am so sleep-deprived, which always affects me pretty drastically.

My worst night of sleep is usually the second one, when my body has had plenty of sleep the previous night and is trying to get back on what it thinks is the right schedule (of my previous time zone).

Usually what follows is a pendulum pattern: insomnia and too few hours, followed by exhaustion and too many hours, and so on. Each night is less extreme until I return to my normal. This can last around a week.

So if you enjoy your regular sleep patterns, this might sound terrible. But I swear it is worth it! It’s definitely annoying, but getting to travel is so much more “good” than jet lag is “bad.” There’s no contest for me. I love sleep, but I love travel more.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up to views like this??


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