Sleepless in Santiago.

Santiago by Night. Owen Zupp


If there’s a flip-side to the benefits of international travel, it’s the battle of the body clock. It’s currently 3:30am in Santiago, Chile and I’ve been wide awake for hours. Ultimately, I have surrendered to my sleepless state and sought solace at the keyboard.

Don’t get me wrong. The ability to travel the world and see the most amazing sights is not lost on me – it’s a privilege. However, long haul flying does come with some interesting challenges. To fly west through the longest day, or welcome and farewell the moon in a few hours heading east is a sensation for humankind that is only decades old. To add to our body’s confusion, these contrasting events can take place only days apart.

Every crew member deals with the dilemma differently. Some stay on “home time” and become a creature of the night, visiting the fitness centre in the silence of 2am before waiting for the doors to open to the breakfast buffet. Others are night owls, staying out late to ensure a long and restful sleep on their return. And there are those who seem to adapt without effort, although a state of residual fatigue is usually evident by the time their days off roll around. To each their own.

Personally, I endeavour to stay close to Sydney time, making me somewhat nocturnal. I can still communicate with my family in real time and office hours are in effect in Australia for all of the mundane administrative tasks. Even so, there are still enough daylight hours to gain a dose of Vitamin D and take in the sights. However, as I said, everyone’s strategy is different and can vary depending on the port of call.

The relative silence at 3am is something I have always found enchanting. The busiest cities are still and from my vantage point high above, in one hotel or another, I watch the traffic lights cycle without the passage of a single car. The usual background roar of the urban world has also died down and the slightest sound is able to drift up to my 20th floor window uninterrupted. And there are times when I venture out to be a part of the serene landscape before daily life returns.

Yes, it is the flip side of long haul flying but it’s also the flip side of normal human activity. Our physiology isn’t necessarily built for a 24/7 existence and whichever strategy we adopt still needs to be balanced with exercise, good rest and diet. For now, I’ll pack the keyboard away and try for a short afternoon nap…at 4am.

Owen Zupp. Aviation Books.