How I spent 6 weeks in a tent…in Oakland…and why I’m terrified of jet lag.

When my kids were little, they were terrible sleepers. As newborns, they woke up every hour on the hour. As infants, they defied “sleep training” for weeks. As toddlers, they were up before the sun…at 4 am.

My daughter was finally sleeping through the night by the time she was four. My son held out until age five. During this time, Josh had some nose and throat issues that were causing him to snore and sleep like a hibernating bear. And I should mention that maybe the kids inherited their sleep patterns from me. I am the world’s lightest sleeper, and I cannot nap. Ever.

So, for those seven long years, I was so constantly tired that I felt like I was on some kind of strong hallucinogenic drug.Β I routinely saw bats flapping in the shadows and large shapes hulking in doorways. I stumbled through the days in a stupid haze, often forgetting basic information (Josh’s cell phone number, if I had eaten lunch, what that thing with the prongs is called…you know…that thing…?).

My short-term memory was shot, as well. I needed to speak very slowly so that I could remember what I had been trying to say…thirty seconds before.

It got to the point where the subject was painful. If another mom mentioned that she had to wake her kids up to get them to school on time, I was liable to burst into tears or have to walk away from the conversation.

I was just…so…tired.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. “I’m moving out,” I told Josh.

Being used to my dramatic proclamations, he just nodded.

I dug our North Face tent out of the garage and pitched it in our backyard.Β Inside the tent, I inflated our queen-sized air mattress and covered it with our best sheets and a warm down comforter. Then I decorated: a cozy rug, a footstool, a lantern, a few good books.

It was the best sleep of my life.

I slept out there for six weeks. During this time, I have no idea what happened inside my house. I woke up each morning, refreshed and alert, unzipped the tent flap, and walked fifteen feet to the back door. Everyone was awake to greet me and happy to see me. I slowly became a productive member of society again.

We didn’t travel outside of our time zone for years. It was too intense…not to mention too expensive (there was no way I was going to pay thousands of dollars to recreate the sleep drama of the past).

My kids are older now, and they are able to sleep (or at least lie in bed quietly), but the farthest we’ve been is three hours away. This summer, we’re headed to Japan, then Europe. Frankly, I’m a little nervous. What if?

Any suggestions?



  1. So my son was a bad sleeper too. Nothing close to your kids but still reduced me to a hallucinating, babbling member of society for almost a year.

    How have your kids handled the 3 hour time difference?

    I’ve found that the trip east is easier than the trip west. When we go to Hawaii for example, we do often go to sleep earlier and wake earlier than we would at home but we try to keep it within reason. Going home can be hard but at least at that point, you are home.

    Mostly, I try to listen to my kids and not push sleep too much. When they start acting tired, I let them sleep. If it isn’t time to sleep, then I’ll wake them after an hour or two. If they aren’t tired yet and it is still within a reasonable time then I let them stay up.

    After plenty of travel with the kids, I’ve realized that things tend to go better when I’m less stressed so if I set some parameters (we won’t go to sleep before 6 and after 10 depending on the time difference) and then just play it by ear within that frame, things go better for everyone.

    Also, it’s easier to adjust if you start on the plane. Make sure you bring plenty of distractions that will be exciting and help you stay awake when you want to be awake.

  2. Leave the kids home alone this Summer. Leave them with a knife, dental floss, a pack of gum and the Macgyver series on DVD. You’ve done all you can. Now the rest is in the hands of Macgyver. Good luck.

  3. If you’re going to japan for
    East coast like me definitely do a few days stopover in Cali to get adjusted to the time change
    It’s a beast if you don’t stop on west coast

  4. Bring melatonin with you and gatorade packets. You can add gatorade to some water while you’re on the plane (to combat dehydration) and you can take melatonin when you get there. Kids who have trouble falling asleep (like mine) can take 3-5mg of melatonin.

    I always found jet lag is worst when I come back from a trip… it doesn’t matter to me which way I travel, East or West. I’m too excited when I start the trip to let jet lag affect me I guess! But I have heard that staying hydrated, using melatonin, sunlight therapy, and activity at the right times can help.

    You might also want to try getting a sleep “routine” together for yourself and for the kids. It’s Pavlovian, but it works! The sleep routine might include an app that uses music or nature sounds to lull you to sleep, using a calming spray on your pillow, having a mantra/prayer that you say every night to give you restful, healing sleep. If you start it before you leave, it can help you when you’re in Japan.

    Good luck and have fun… I’m so jealous!

  5. When I travel international, when I land, assuming it’s morning or afternoon, I try to force myself to stay up until “normal bedtime”. I’m usually exhausted (hard for me to sleep on planes)and it’s tough for me that first day. But if I can force my tired self to stay up, it really helps a ton with the acclimation. Then, having a regular schedule (wake up, out of room by certain time, meals at set times), helps me as well. I’ve had plenty of practice & can adjust to the new int’l timezone in 2 days this way. I’ve heard the food part helps a lot – meaning eating breakfast/lunch/dinner at the normal local times, helps acclimate the tummy. Sounds weird but it seems to help.

    BTW – my two cents. In the US, heading East is just horrid. Much prefer going West. Going East means when I’m trying to go to sleep at 11pm, my body thinks it’s either 8pm (PT) or 5pm (HST) and hard to fall asleep. When I need to wake up at 6am, my body is in a deep slumber thinking it’s either 3am (PT) or 12am (HST). West to East just plain sucks. Going west, you can fall asleep early, and are ready to wake up in the morning bright eyes and all. My Int’l timezone tricks don’t work in the US (for me)!

    Happy travels!!!

  6. ha! I didn’t even comment on the tent. Genius idea!! Would love to hear a Josh story sometime about his side of how those six months went.

  7. πŸ™‚

  8. Points Pixie says

    Erica – My kids are now 8 and 10 and can (mostly) listen to reason. Also, the fact that they can now just read quietly to themselves makes a HUGE difference. So, the 3-hour time change has been okay…but I think a 16-hour difference is a whole new world. My plan is to gradually stay up later and later here in California for the week before we leave. Hopefully that will at least put a dent in the lag time. Will see!

    Guest – Sounds like my childhood πŸ™‚

    Anita – Luckily we live in California!

    Robin – I love the idea of a sleep routine that includes all of the senses! Love, love, love. Will try it!! Thank you. I’m already a huge fan of melatonin (and, ahem, Ambien) but I think a multi-part routine can only help.

    Rebecca – Thanks for the tips. Also for the idea of a Josh post. Ha ha!

    Annissa – πŸ™‚

  9. As one of your 5 readers of the opposite gender πŸ˜‰ – expect the worst and you’ll be pleasantly surprised – maybe. On an unrelated note, Alaska Air has opened up some nice flights to SLC from Bay Area airports – falls in the lowest tier BA partner award bracket of 9,000 miles round trip. So we’re heading to Yellowstone from there early summer with our 6-yr-old and surly mother-in-law (they cancel each other out on the car trip to & from). 4 people for 36,000 BA miles!

    FYI – steal the Crowne Plaza relaxation CD – puts me out within 10 minutes!

    • Points Pixie says

      James – I so appreciate you and the other 4! πŸ˜‰

      Nice find about the Alaska Air availability!!! Might have to jump on that one.

      Also nice tip about the Crowne Plaza CD…hmmm…

  10. If you can, begin moving your waking scedule to that of your desired location. Either get up earlier go to bed earlier or the opposite depnding on where you are headed. Move it one hour every day or two. You probably can’t get it all the way to the other scedule, but half way might be possible.

    Did it once going to London really seemed to help. It does take time, and you do get out of sync with the world around you.

  11. JustSaying says

    Ever since 10 years ago my wife went through 150 days in patient chemo/bone marrow transplants(2) I rated Ambien and have been on it ever since………now when my survivor wife and I get on the plane we order dinner, polish off the champagne, each take an ambient and have a great flight waking just in time for breakfast……….improved living thru pharmaceuticals………..

  12. JustSaying says

    That would be ambien despite this idiotic spell checker system that Boarding Area forces upon us………..

  13. Points Pixie says

    JustSaying – I am raising a glass to your survivor wife right now!! Seriously, wow. That is incredible. Cheers to both of you.

    I love my Ambien as well. Nothing like it.

    • JustSaying says

      Back at ya! UCSF is one of the finest medical institutions in the world! And Children’s Hospital in Oakland! Just grateful!

  14. @James

    Loved the remark about the surly mother in law. I’m assuming she doesn’t read this blog. πŸ™‚

  15. This is one of the best articles.


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