Recently, I was strolling through ORD once again, and walked by a sushi restaurant on the way to the F gates that I’ve been to on another layover. Immediately, I thought about slipping in for a quick sashimi, when I realised it wasn’t even open yet as I got closer to it. It was 8am. I had skipped a night sleep, and felt like dinner but had to laugh at myself for being so thrown off by the time zone difference.
After traveling about 70.000 miles this year, going east to west and west to east more often than any friends and family could keep track of, I figured out a thing or two about jet lag.
Business travel, especially frequent trips, can really do a number on your biological clock. Jet lag is a reality all (business) travellers deal with. It is bad enough to feel like dinner when it is 8am local time on your vacation, but quick trips that are meant to be productive are worse. You may travel into a city and have business meetings the same or the next day. If you are extra lucky, it may involve a business dinner where that glass of wine can be oh so tempting, and oh so sleep inducing.
Adjusting to your new time zone as efficiently as possible means you can get on with what is really important. Getting over jet lag is easier for some people than others, but generally traveling east to west is a lot easier than the reverse. Recovering from jet lag also gets more difficult with age. An unfortunate reality as often seniority in your business correlates positively with age, and with more business travel.
Getting over jet lag on short trips
Don’t. If your trip is three days or shorter, it is not really worth getting over your jet lag. For every time zone you moved, it takes about a day to adjust. So when traveling from London to New York, it is not worth trying to get on New York time for a two day trip. By the time you do, you are traveling back to London. Having said that, I disagree a bit with some theories that suggest keeping the same schedule you have at home. This is not realistic on business trips. It would mean dinner at lunchtime and skipping that business meal later in the day. It’s one thing to try and go to bed at a reasonable time, and perhaps earlier than you would at home, but when it comes to food I suggest eating according to the local schedule.
Getting over jet lag on longer trips
My business trips can be about a week long, or sometimes longer. I sometimes add on some personal time in between appointments and save myself a trip across the Atlantic, as well as save some money in our travel budget. These longer trips mean I do eventually have to adjust to the time zone and get over my jet lag.
Usually, I can get on a local schedule within about a day. There are a few tricks that help me recover from jet lag as fast as possible. In order of importance, here are my best tips to get over jet lag:
- Stay awake
If you are lucky enough to be able to sleep on flights, it may be best not to depending on where you travel. If you are on a 6pm flight that is going from North America to Europe, and you arrive in the morning local time, go ahead and get as much snooze as you can. It will help get over jet lag grabbing a few hours of sleep while flying and staying awake during the day when you arrive. If you go the other way, you may have a day flight that arrives in the evening. Sleeping on your flight just means it is more difficult to get to sleep when you get to your hotel. Look at the arrival time, in local time, and assess accordingly when you should sleep. Typically, when I fly to Europe on an “overnight” flight, I arrive at 1am New York time but maybe 6 or 7am local time. If I did not get sleep on the flight, it means no sleep for me until it is evening in Europe. There is little point to sleeping during the day because it will just take longer to get over the jet lag if I do. If I go straight to the office or to a business meeting, it just takes a bit of coffee and lunch at the proper time to get through that first day. The key thing to remember: Sleep when it makes sense, local time, to get over jet lag faster.
- Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate
Water is your best friend to get over jet lag on business trips. Anyone who travels for work knows how business goes down; alcohol is synonymous with (most) business dinners. Avoid it your first day, and ideally avoid it on your flight. Technically the same goes for caffeine, but I usually let myself have a cappuccino or two if I really need it. Pair it with a lot of water, and you will get over jet lag faster. Being dehydrated makes jet lag symptoms worse, but keep in mind that drinking your usual amount will not be enough. Flying is tremendously dehydrating, so you will need to drink extra water to get over that, and your jet lag. The tiny cups of water given on board do not add up enough. A good travel tip is to buy a bottle of water at the airport and taking it onto the flight.
- Exercise is serious business
Stay active in the cabin. Walk around at least once an hour while on your flight. Do some light stretching when you can. Not only will this help you stay awake on flights where you should, it helps prevent thrombosis and staying active is helpful with getting over jet lag. Typically, people who just stay seated for most of the flight are not moving around as much as they would normally. Even if their life style is sedentary. This inactivity aggravates jet lag symptoms further.
- Plan your journey
If you have the luxury of arriving a day before your first business meeting, it gives you a chance to get over your jet lag before you need to power up your brain for the important stuff. Planning ahead also helps you prepare to eat at the local time of your destination. To help with this, fasting can also be helpful. If you fast while on your flight, your body is primed to eat the next meal at the local time of your destination. If you arrive in the early morning, grabbing a nice breakfast on an empty stomach helps your body adjust to the local schedule and recover from jet lag faster. Building in some exercise if you arrive in the morning reinforces all your other efforts.
Getting over jet lag can be difficult, and how difficult varies for each person. Business travel puts an additional strain on us by demanding we are ready to hit the ground running once we land, giving little time to recover from the time zone differences. Taking this into account and preparing accordingly will help you battle jet lag symptoms faster, and helps you get down to business.
I am about to land at YYZ, so I will wrap this up. Although I am going east, I will avoid staying up too late so I can be ready to tackle my morning meetings.