Frequent travelers will have experienced jet lag at one time or another. Our circadian rhythms (otherwise known as our body’s internal clock) are slow to adjust to new time zones so we end up snoozing mid-afternoon or wide awake throughout the night. This leads to fatigue, indigestion and concentration loss, among other side effects, which makes getting on with work a tough endeavor.
There’s no cure as such, as it affects people in different ways, but here are some ways to minimize its impact on your wellbeing and productivity.
BEFORE TRAVELING West is best, east is a beast As a business traveler, it’s likely that you won’t have control over your destination but it’s worth bearing in mind that going east will take its toll – there’s less time in the day to adjust to the new time zone. Plan ahead and make sure you get enough sleep in the days leading up to travel.
• Choose a flight with a daytime arrival One way to adjust to a different time zone is to expose yourself to as much daylight as possible. Circadian rhythms are shaped by light and darkness, and can help you to push through the drowsiness.
• Prepare by altering your habits If you know you are traveling to Europe, for instance, try going to bed a little earlier than normal the week before. That way the change won’t be such a shock.
WHILE TRAVELING • Set your watch to the destination’s time zone It’s simple but it tends to do the trick, adjusting your body to the new clock before you touch down.
• Abstain from caffeine and alcohol Both alcohol and caffeine are stimulants so don’t be tempted to consume them when you are flying, as they will dehydrate you and interrupt your sleep. Instead, drink plenty of water and use hydrating creams and moisturizers.
• Steer clear of the screen While it’s tough to cut back on screen time, you need to switch off (in every sense). Many phones have a “night mode” feature, which shifts the display to the warmer end of the color spectrum, but nothing is better than the “off” button.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE • Get on to local time when you arrive Don’t give in to the temptation of a quick nap when you arrive. Push on through, make the most of any daylight there is – go for a walk and explore the local area. Even going shopping is better than an afternoon siesta. Then try to stay up until late evening to minimize the chances of waking up in the middle of the night.
• Be flexible Eat meals in line with the new time zone and pick foods that are rich in tryptophan – for example, oily fish, eggs and spinach – as this helps to stimulate melatonin, which is involved in regulating your body clock.
• Exercise Working out during the day will make you physically tired by the evening and help to improve your sleeping patterns.