Why I Bought Melatonin Today

IMG_0349Today I bought a bottle of melatonin. It’s a grape-flavored bottle of hope. Getting a good night’s sleep has become increasingly elusive for me, despite observing best practices. Add travel to the mix—including crossing the dateline a few times—and my trip to The Vitamin Shoppe to talk with a sales clerk about melatonin dosage was long overdue.

Earlier this month, I flew on a United 787 from San Francisco to Chengdu, China, and the BusinessFirst seat could not have been more comfortable, perfectly conducive to getting a good deal of sleep. (I’m a hardy traveler and pride myself on having flown in economy from SFO to Delhi, curled up against the wall, with nary a complaint. Lie-flat is a luxury to be savored.)

There’s more to sleep on planes than the seat, though. There’s strategy: When and for how long? Aided by wine, Ambien or au natural? On this flight from SFO to Chengdu, I took my cues from Olivier, my seatmate. We’d had a long conversation, so I knew he flies to Chengdu (and Asia) frequently—a jet lag master. When I saw it was lights out for him, I put on my eye mask and pulled up the duvet. I only slept a couple of hours at most (as he did), but I wanted to make sure I was tired when we landed that evening, so I could get to sleep the first night in the hotel. I noticed others waited until later in the flight and slept longer, and I wondered if that was a better or worse strategy.

On the way back, I slept a good six hours and arrived feeling refreshed at 8 a.m. in San Francisco. It helps to be exhausted from a trip, and I find I usually sleep better on the way home. I experienced no jet lag, despite staying up into the wee hours that night on return.

What got me thinking about melatonin was when Olivier suggested I begin taking it two days before leaving Chengdu to prevent the west-to-east jet lag. Of course I had not brought any with me to Chengdu, and to purchase it there would have been a major project. But the conversation reminded me that melatonin may help with my nonplane sleep issues—at home and in hotels. While in Chengdu, I did not sleep well, despite staying in one of the most lovely and comfortable rooms ever. And I notice I toss and turn in most hotels, even without a time zone change, as well as in my own bed.

I’m pinning a lot of hope on my little purple bottle, but suspect it will not work major miracles, just minor. Do you use a sleep aid when you travel? And if you have sleep strategies for flights or jet lag advice, please share in the comments.

(Photo: Nancy Branka)

Hotel Solution: One Way to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Travel tip: There’s a simple tool in your hotel room that will close up that irritating gap between the drapes.

Have you ever noticed that hotel room drapes seem universally unwilling to close fully, so that there almost always is a gap between each side. That’s not the end of the world…until you’re trying to sleep in and the sun pours through. Good morning! Not.

The ever-resourceful Carol Margolis, author of Business Travel Success and the Smart Women Travelers blog, gave me this ingenious tip: Use one of the clip-style hangers from the closet to “clothes pin” together the drapes before you go to sleep. Problem solved.