Jet lag and shift work



I made the mistake of going back to work the day after coming back from holiday with jet lag and without having slept for 24 hours due to having to stay awake on the night flight in order to keep the plane in the air. I am slightly paranoid about flying, but rather less so than my brother who has undergone a flight fear course which clearly hasn’t worked, given he has not flown much in the more than a decade since and preferred to take a 24-hour bus journey across Patagonia with two toddlers at one point rather than a short flight.

I woke up at 7am, 8am and 9am the day after we got back, but could not shift my body until 9.30, which was essentially 4.30am in holidayland. Only son woke up in the night and called out ‘mum’. I was in deepest slumber and woke with a start, imagining him drifting out to sea, given his voice sounded so far away and we had just been on a boat. The whole day I felt that the ground was moving underneath me as if we were still heading out to sea. My partner surfaced around 11am, but only son managed to sleep in till midday. The teens were up for dinner.

My partner decided to take one day off to recover and went in yesterday, emailing shortly afterwards about how exhausted he was feeling, having not been able to get to sleep until early morning and waking up for a couple of hours at 4am.

He used to do alternating day and night shifts back in the day, but had underestimated the impact of jet lag. As a freelance with a ‘portfolio career’ I’ve done several 4-5am stretches and got up the next morning for the school run and work and not felt as bad as I’ve felt this week. On holiday I got rung at around 4am one day about a news story linked to the increase in mums working night shifts in supermarkets to save on childcare costs and to earn extra cash. I was in a supermarket the other day and the cashier wrote a note telling me how tired he was because he was doing two shifts – one at the supermarket at the weekend and a full-time job at a hospital during the week.  Jet lag may be difficult, but unless you have to travel for a living, it’s mercifully temporary.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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