If you fly long-haul for business, you're no doubt familiar with the complicated sleep calculus regular travelers engage in to try to minimize jet lag.
"If I can keep myself up until 8 pm," you might say clutching your sixth cup of coffee, "I'll sleep through the night and feel like a human tomorrow."
Or maybe: "I need a nap to survive this meeting but it can't be more than 20 minutes or I'll be up at 4am for the whole trip."
But while we're all practiced in rejiggering our sleep schedules to try to alleviate our exhaustion, new research suggests we should worry less about when we snooze and more about when we eat.
Eat your way to less fatigue.
For the study, researchers from the University of Surrey in the U.K. looked at a group even more prone to experiencing debilitating travel-related exhaustion than executives -- flight attendants. According to a host of studies, cabin crew suffer from a host of mind and body ills caused by long-haul travel, from cognitive impairments to moodiness and, of course, fatigue.
Could these frequent flyers counteract some of the harm, the researchers wondered, by they were more mindful not of when they sleep (which most of these airline veterans already plan strategically) but by when they eat?
By comparing the outcomes for crew members who made careful plans about when to eat versus those who took a more spontaneous approach to food, the researchers determined that regularly scheduled mealtimes can be something of a magic bullet when it comes to beating jet lag.
Can business travelers steal this secret?
Which is good news for flight attendants, but do the results apply to business travelers as well? Yup, University of Surrey psychologist and study author Cristina Ruscitto told Inc.com. Just like cabin crew, entrepreneurs and execs on the go can use the research to help them get in sync with local time (or home time on their return) more quickly.
How exactly? The first thing you need to consider, Ruscitto explains, is the length of your stay and whether you're aiming to keep your body clock set to your usual time zone or whether you want to switch over to the time at your destination. Then schedule your meals accordingly.
"If business travel is short (two to three days), keep your sleep schedules and eating times as close as possible to the home time zone," Ruscitto advises. (If that's not practical, regular local meal times is second best and beats haphazard snack scoffing). If you'll be away for four or more days, try to eat on a local schedule as soon as possible, which will help you body's circadian rhythms adapt to the new time zone much more quickly, alleviating jet lag.
"For example, if you travel from the U.K. to the U.S. (East Coast), start with breakfast at 7-9 am (12-14 GMT), a delay in eating times which corresponds to a delay in the light/dark cycle at destination," Ruscitto offers.
The basic takeaway is simple (tasty!) and actionable -- plan your meal times as carefully as you plan your sleep schedule when you're far from home, and you're much less likely to feel like a zombie when you travel.
What's your best tip for beating jet lag?