“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
I’m a minimalist, if not prohibitionist, when it comes to recreational and prescription drug use. Heck, I don’t even like ingesting a couple of Advil unless I’m in severe pain. But several years ago, my doctor asked if I wanted 10-15 short-term sleeping pills for the many long-haul flights I take for work each year.
“No thanks—I don’t want to form an addiction,” I quickly countered. “If you only use them once in a while under extreme conditions such as long-haul flights and single-night campouts, you won’t form an addiction,” he gently explained, adding that he personally uses the same generic prescription drug this way.
I’m no doctor and hate being sleep-deprived, so I decided to give it a shot. Several years later, I’m happy to report that I didn’t form an addiction. Better yet, I believe I discovered a dirt-cheap way to turn long-haul coach seats into sleep-friendly first-class. Now on intercontinental or overseas flights, I “crash” in 15 minutes after popping a magic pill and wake up feeling noticeably more refreshed than before and more alert than other passengers.
I’ll even use these pills on overnight trans-American flights. For example, a few years ago my wife and I took a red eye flight from Utah to Florida to board a cruise ship with friends who were on the same flight. After boarding at midnight, I ingested the little orange pill and was soundly asleep before we took off. I didn’t wake up until we landed four and a half hours later. I felt great.
“What did you do?” my sleep deprived friends asked. I filled them in and was noticeably perkier than them at breakfast. Not in a neaner, nearner, nearner or arrogant sort of way. But in a I’m so grateful I got to sleep on that plane so I wouldn’t be a zombie today way.
This travel hack works so well, even the US Air Force prescribes these same pills (aka generic zolpidem or name brand Ambien—one of the most commonly prescribed medications in America) to help jet lagged pilots get the legally required amount of sleep before their next flight. Common side effects include day after grogginess (which I do, but jet lag and sleep-deprived camping does this naturally anyways), as well as headache, nausea, and diarrhea, which I’ve never suffered from.
Obviously, zolpidem isn’t for everyone, including my pilot brother-in-law who sleepwalks on them. My wife can get similar amounts of sleep on over-the-counter melatonin and Tylenol PM, so she doesn’t really need them either. But these pills are a globetrotting godsend for everyone else who respond favorably to them, especially on a short-term basis like my doctor prescribed for me.
Granted, my results and effectiveness have varied by flight. While they always work in some form to put me to sleep, I sometimes sleep better than others, especially on an overnight flight or when on a time-shifting day flight to the other side of the world. Overnight flights work best in my experience. But “more than before” sleep on day flights is a welcome addition too.
As I’ve taken zolpidem no more than 10 times a year for the last several years, I get the feeling its effectiveness has weakened slightly, which is common with sleep aids. I have no idea if it will weaken further. But I’ve yet to encounter a situation where they didn’t help. And I wouldn’t trade the last several years of well-rested long-haul flights for anything. They’ve truly helped me make the most of my time on foreign lands with little to no chronic jet log.
I realize this advice is controversial. And I feel completely slimy for saying this—noting that neither I nor any family member or friend gets paid in any way by Big Pharma—but talk to your doctor to see if generic zolpidem is right for you. It’s arguably the greatest travel aid I’ve enjoyed in my adult life.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.