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November 15, 2019

Tips to Fight Jet Lag on Business Trips

For road warriors, jet lag is an old familiar foe. It can strike in unexpected ways — even if you’re traveling only a couple time zones away and even when you travel all the time. The most battle-worn travelers have developed a set of tried-and-true techniques of fighting off jet lag’s deadly sneak attacks.

Yet despite our swagger, pretty much every road warrior will jump at any opportunity to swap best practices and share our patented secrets with one of our fellow travelers, in hopes of one day putting an end to jet lag’s drain on our productivity and effectiveness

To that end, here are your road warrior tips on coping with jet lag on business trips.

There are Trips… and Then There are Trips

No two trips are alike — even if they’re to the exact same destination. Whether it’s a two-hour jump or a twelve-hour haul, you need to treat each trip as unique and build your jet lag-crushing plan accordingly. Conferences and their grueling 16-hour days will warrant a different plan of attack than a sensitive-yet-brief two-hour client meeting. Time of year can even come into play — for example, sunlight is a hugely popular way of supporting a shift in your body’s internal clock. Yet that late afternoon stroll around the Jardin de Luxembourg that worked so well in May is going to provide a lot less vitamin D in early January.

An Ounce of Preparation

Here’s a tip that works well — but it’s also the hardest to do. And that is to start adjusting before you leave on the trip. Go to bed earlier or later, according to your destination time zone. Even 30 minutes or an hour is better than nothing. Full acknowledgement this isn’t realistic if you’ve got other obligations, an evening class, or need to put kids to put to bed. Nevertheless, when your schedule allows, it’s best to get started with the adjustment when you’re in the comfort of your own bed and without all the stresses that come along with business travel.

Eastward and Red-eyes

And then there’s direction. East to west or west to east? Traveling eastward means losing time. The length of your day is shorter, and that means asking your body to fall asleep potentially hours before it is ready to do so.

Airlines tend to offer red-eye flights for eastward trips. Unless you have an option to fly first or business class, most would agree that red-eyes are to be avoided if possible. Considering sleep deprivation can have an effect on your body that’s equivalent to alcohol — and that may not be a state you want to meet your prospective client in. (Not to mention the question of finding a place to freshen up before your meeting.)

Thus, if you’re avoiding a red-eye, you’re going to be traveling during the day to your destination to the east of you, so you’re arriving and going to bed earlier than your body expects to. Typically for 2- to 4-hour time differences, you’ll want to trick your body into exhaustion.

  1. Stay up late/get up early the day before. This goes along with the general best practice of starting to adjust before you leave. Try to wear yourself out by being exhausted to begin with. This is only advisable if you don’t need to be at your best on your travel day.
  2. Exercise. As soon as you check into the hotel, jump on the treadmill or into your exercise of choice to wear yourself out as much as possible. A walk around the city might work as well.
  3. Melatonin. Many travelers swear by it; others say it’s snake oil. In any case, if your doctor gives the thumbs-up, it might be worth a try. Take it 20-30 minutes before bed to help adjust your body’s natural sleep rhythm.
  4. Glass of wine. One alcoholic drink works for many to coax sleep faster. Science shows alcohol induced sleep to be less beneficial. Results may vary.
  5. Get the app. Try out a jet lag app for advice based on your own habits — more on that below.

Westward and Extra Hours

Depending on the length of the flight(s), traveling westward, most agree, is much easier than eastward. Why? Simply because it’s much easier to collapse in bed and go straight to sleep after staying awake for the extra hours you gain when traveling west (and yes, that counts even if you’re crossing the international date line). The recommendation for heading westward is to sync up your meals with your destination time zone, don’t go overboard with alcohol so you can maintain good quality sleep, and hit the hay at your target time at the destination. For bigger time jumps and depending on time of arrival at your destination, you may need to take a brief nap or grab a coffee or energy drink to stay awake until your bedtime. Just bear in mind not to take too long a nap, or drink your coffee too close to bedtime or it may be harder to fall asleep.

Tips From the Road

We recently posed a question around jet lag to the TripActions community of hundreds of thousands of travelers. Here are a few of their tips:

Lastly, there’s an app for everything — including jet lag. In fact, there are several. Apps like Timeshifter take advantage of science, then get an idea of your personal circadian rhythms and recommend the steps to take to adjust quickly. Recommendations include when to take a nap, drink coffee, and find or avoid light.

In Summary…

  1. Before your trip: Don’t wait — start early.
  2. On the flight: Moderate your alcohol and screens, use your shade
  3. When you land: Use daylight and coffee or an energy drink if appropriate
  4. At night: Take melatonin and be smart about alcohol
  5. There’s an app for that

Do you have a business trip coming that could give you jet lag? Write up a quick plan for management, then pick a great suitcase and start packing.

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