How do business travelers deal with jet lag?

by Mark Miller June 09, 2016 5 min read

How do business travelers deal with jet lag?

Light has a lot to do with jet lag. When going west get more sunlight in the morning and less later in the day. And do the opposite when going east. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Moise Nicu)

How do business travelers cope with jet lag? If their work requires that they meet with their customers or associates in situ, they have to fly more than most people.

The blog of Crew Inc. has a an analysis of what jet lag is and how to fight it. The writer asks the question: “Is it really such a bad thing to deal with jet lag as we slowly adjust to a new time zone?”

The answer? “Well, if you’re asking that question, you’ve never felt serious jet lag. Common symptoms involve fatigue, confusion and lack of awareness. Imagine those symptoms lasting for days as you grapple with the mental and emotional adjustment to your new surroundings.

Stress-inducer

The blog adds that studies have found that jet lag induces stress, reduces memory capacity and learning ability, throws off the normal rhythm of genes and reduces the growth of neurons in the brain. (I’ve never heard of the rhythm of genes. A quick Google search shows it has to do with the internal clock and circadian rhythms.)

The Crew blog and many other articles on the Web recommend adjusting your sleeping-waking schedule gradually before you depart on your trip.

But before we get into tips on how to prevent or reduce jet lag, what exactly is it?

It’s a sleep disorder. WebMd says jet lag happens to people who fly across two or more time zones. Obviously, the farther you fly, the more you’ll be affected. Also, going from west to east causes worse jet lag than flying from east to west.

WebMD states:

Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder, but not temporary enough for many travelers. If you’re flying from San Francisco to Rome for a 10-day trip, for example, it may take six to nine days to fully recover. That’s because it can take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to adjust to the local time. If you’re traveling east to west, from Rome to San Francisco, jet lag could last four to five days — about half the number of time zones crossed. Jet lag is generally worse when you “lose time” traveling west to east.

Older people may be more deeply affected by jet lag, the article states.

Why does jet lag happen?

People get jet lag because their biological clock or circadian rhythms get thrown off. Circadian rhythms help control when people fall asleep and wake up. The body takes cues for when to sleep from light and customary things like meals and social activities. Those cues become disrupted when you cross time zones. The body’s internal clock becomes desynchronized with the external time. It takes a while for the body to get into the rhythm of new time zones it enters.

Sleep expert Allison T. Siebern, PhD, told WebMD that other things are at work in jet lag that conspire to rob the body of its normal sleep patterns. People can become dehydrated and have the oxygen in their blood lowered by cabin pressurization. Also, people tend to sit without moving around for long periods when on airplanes.

“These can increase symptoms of jet lag and further disrupt your circadian rhythm from re-synchronizing,” Siebern told WebMD.

If the problem is very bad, WebMD even advises seeking the advice of a sleep therapist. They have ways to help the body adjust, including light therapy, medications and prescribing melatonin—a chemical produced in the body that aids in falling asleep.

How to cope with jet lag

It’s just about unanimous in articles on reducing jet lag that people adjust their sleep schedules before leaving. When going east, go to bed a half hour earlier every day for several night before departing, says WebMD. When going westward, go to bed a half hour later.

A psychological tip that Siebern recommends is to also adjust to the new schedule on the flight. Adjust your watch to the new time zone before you arrive. Try to sleep if it’s a night flight, but don’t force the issue. She says you can become frustrated, which interferes with sleep. If you can’t sleep, rest as much as you can, she advises.

Arrive early to be in top form

If you have a big, important meeting or event of some kind, try to schedule your flight so you arrive a few days before. That way you’ll have time to recover and be at your best.

Try doing static exercises and stretching on the flight. Also, WebMD advises you to get up and move around a lot.

As to whether you should take melatonin, a chemical produced in the body that induces sleep, studies have found mixed results with it. “Some research shows that it can reduce jet lag on flights both east and west, but other research has not shown a benefit,” WebMD states.

When going to the west, take bright sunshine in the morning, and avoid light exposure in the afternoon and evening. When going east, do the opposite—get little light in the morning and as much as you can around the late afternoon and early evening.

Wearing ear plugs and an eye mask, both on the flight and at the place you are visiting, may help you to sleep.

WebMD says some people who fly frequently advise eating heavily a few days before the flight and then fasting the day you fly. However, WebMD also states that no diets have been proven to be efficacious in preventing jet lag.

Siebern says to avoid eating heavy carbs or fatty foods near bedtime because they can disrupt sleep.

After you arrive, take a hot bath before bed to ease sore muscles and to possibly induce sleep by way of falling body temperatures.

For short trips

Crew has some sage advice for people who won’t be gone long:

If your trip is short and you’re not traveling over more than three time zones, you could be better off not adjusting at all. Jim Waterhouse, a professor of biological rhythms at Liverpool John Moores University often recommends staying on the same schedule you had at home rather than trying to adjust to local time if you’re not there for long. Three days or less, for instance, is barely enough time to adjust, so it may not be worth the effort. Waterhouse suggests keeping your watch set to the time at home and acting accordingly during your trip.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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