A Good Flight's Sleep

Chkistopher Lotz, an attorney from San Antonio, Texas, has his travel routine down to a science. Three days before a transatlantic flight, he begins going to bed and waking up earlier, nudging his body clock toward European time. Then, on the day of his flight, he cats his last meal at 2 p.m. (dinnertime in Europe) and heads to the airport for a late evening depar-ture.

Once onboard the plane, he pops a dose of the prescription sleeping pill Ambien, dons eye-shades and earplugs and settles into his cramped coach seat. "Before you know it I'm asleep, and I wake up when they're doing the morning meal service," he says. Coming off the plane, he feels refreshed and ready to tackle client meetings without needing a nap first.

Jet lag has been the bane of business travelers since the birth of international flight. But while aviation technology has advanced well beyond Charles Lindbergh's monoplane, a cure for "circadian-rhythm stress" has remained as elusive as a fix for the common cold. Frequent fliers have tried everything from fad diets to homeopathic pills to portable "light therapy" lamps. A traveler's best bet, experts say, is to follow Lotz's approach: get plenty of rest during your flight and sync your sleep schedule with that of your destination a few days ahead of time.

To conk out on a noisy jet, more and more travelers are experimenting with prescriptions. Dr. James Walsh, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, D.C., recommends two medications to help fliers sleep: the prescription drugs Ambien (sold as Stilnoct in Europe) and Sonata. (People at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, or DV1; should not take sleeping pills on planes.

Consult your doctor before taking any drugs.) "You want a medication that stays in your body four to six hours," he says. Anything longer lasting anti-histamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills and over the counter sleep aids can make you woozy. (Sonata promotes sleep for about four hours, Ambien for about six.) To sleep more soundly, Walsh also recommends taking the pills for the first two nights of a trip. "If you can eliminate sleep deprivation;" he says, "that's half of it:' But nonprescription melatonin is still the No. 1 remedy for jet lag. The hormone is secreted by the brain at night to signal the time for sleep.

A poll of 5,000 travelers conducted last summer by the group Leading Hotels of the World found that 21 percent of those who used any jetlag remedy relied on melaton in, compared with 10 percent for Ambien and 10 percent for over the counter sleep aids. There's little scientific evidence that melatonin works as a sleep aid. Researchers, however, have found it to be effective in advancing people's internal clocks before an eastward flight. Chaunane Eastman, a circadian-rhythms scientist at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, recently published a study in which she used mclatonin and exposure to artificial light in the morning to switch volunteers to an earlier sleep.

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