Right now, I’m a walking example of the downsides of jet lag. My wife and I recently took our two daughters (both under 3) on an extended business trip to Asia. Essentially, we turned our bodily clocks upside down with a 12-hour change, resulting in several days of sleepless nights, crankiness and general mental haze to bookend the trip. Was it worth it? The benefits of the trip were extensive: language and cultural immersion, delicious food, and not parting from the kids. In order to make the trip even more worthwhile, we incorporated a few simple guidelines to rest easier and get the job done.
- A few days before your trip, start adjusting slowly. Try eating dinner an hour later (or earlier). Stage your bedtime and wake times.
- The minute you get on the flight, set your watch to the destination time zone. Try to sleep and eat according to your destination time zone.
- Refrain from overdoing it on the alcoholic beverages. Alcohol will inhibit REM and will also dehydrate you on the flight.
- When you arrive, stick to the clock. If it’s still daylight, try to stay outside for an hour or more. The following morning, expose yourself to as much natural light as possible.
- Exercise. Physical activity will help your body reset its internal clocks. Jet lag doesn’t just impact your sleep, but all circadian rhythms. I recommend exercising in the morning on trips to wake your body up and help reset your clock.
- Avoid caffeine after noon or 2 p.m. Relying on caffeine to stick to your new time zone may backfire if it keeps you up when you want to sleep.
- Try hard to stick to a schedule. You may feel like a zombie as evening approaches, but if you give in to your desire to nap, it may prolong your agony.
- If you’re able, don’t schedule any important meetings or dinners the first few afternoons and evenings. By mid- to late-afternoon, your brain will be oatmeal and your body will ache.
- Pace yourself. Just because you are in a different time zone doesn’t stop life in your home zone from continuing. This likely means that you’ll be taking/making calls and receiving emails after business hours in your destination zone. To maintain mental acuity and your own sanity, try not to read emails when you wake up at 2 a.m. I know this is easier said than done, but once the email flood begins, it’s hard to close the gates.
- All of the above apply. Especially light exposure and physical activity.
- The first few days, in the middle of the night, it’s okay if you turn on the lights and play for a bit if the kids can’t fall back asleep. Just don’t make a habit of it after the first few nights.
- Practice patience. You’ve just shocked the little systems of your children, and their minds and bodies need time to adjust to something nature never intended.
The key to avoiding the effects of jet lag is to align your body’s internal clock with the time zone you’re in. With these tips, you’ll be able to surpass the agony and enjoy your trip, whether for business or pleasure.