As a leadership coach and a business consultant, I travel a lot for work. I seem to always be on a plane, at an airport, in a new city or country--and I frequently find myself suffering from jet lag.
For anyone who travels cross-country or internationally, the symptoms are all too familiar. Jet lag affects not only your physical being but your mental state. And whether you're traveling for fun or business, you don't want to be incapacitated while your body catches up.
It's not possible to eliminate jet lag altogether, but you can significantly lessen its effects. Here are some simple smart strategies:
1. Understand what jet lag is. Jet lag affects the internal body clock that keeps you in tune with the pattern of day and night, the internal timer that lets you know it's time to eat or sleep. When that clock is disrupted by a sudden change, it takes time to adjust. The resulting out-of-sync timing affects not just your sleep cycle, but everything from your moods to your blood pressure.
2. Make adjustments before you leave. If your circumstances permit, start adjusting your inner clock gradually before you travel. Depending on whether you're going to an earlier or later time zone, start sleeping and eating earlier or later about a week before you leave. If you're making a leap of several hours, start early and phase the changes in gradually in one-hour increments.
3. Change your time zone on the plane. Reset your electronics to the time of your destination as soon as you get on the plane. This will help your mind begin to make the switch. Try to schedule your sleep on the plane to correspond with the new time--but don't force it. If you can't sleep, just close your eyes and relax for a while. Every little bit helps.
4. Plan an early arrival. If you're traveling to an important meeting and you have to be on top of your game, try to schedule your trip so you arrive a a day or two earlier. It can also give you some time to prepare or immerse yourself in a new place.
5. Watch what you drink. Airplane cabin air is notoriously dry, so drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to counteract dehydration. Avoid alcohol or caffeine--both of which can interfere with sleep patterns--while you're traveling and maybe even the first day after you arrive. Try to time your intake so you don't wake up to use the bathroom, which can make it hard to get back to sleep when you're adjusting to a new schedule.
6. Move around. When you are on the plane make sure to get up and walk around periodically, do some stretches, and flex your muscles. But after you land, avoid heavy exercise any time near bedtime to avoid delaying your sleep. Instead, take a long leisurely walk that may cause you to feel tired rather than energized. Bonus: Being outdoors will help you adjust to the new time zone.
7. Regulate the light. You can make the switch to a new time more quickly if you adjust and regulate your exposure to light, whether it's artificial or natural. Light is the primary environmental cue that tells your internal clock when to sleep and when to wake. If you're indoors, begin dimming the lights at sundown and have them at their brightest in the morning.
8. Eat well. Eat in a way that won't disrupt your sleep. That means no 10 p.m. pizza. Eat several hours before you plan to go to bed, and avoid any foods that cause you indigestion. If you get hungry, snack on foods that (in your experience) will help foster sleep--maybe dairy foods and carbohydrates. Some frequent fliers swear by special jet lag diets such as eating a heavy diet for a few days before travel and fasting on flight day. That approach has never worked for me, but I can tell a definite difference in my jet lag depending on how I eat.
9. Establish a soothing bedtime routine. Being able to fall asleep at an appropriate time is a huge victory in the battle with jetlag. The trick is a soothing evening routine. It may be that a hot bath or shower can help you relax and wind down, and the drop in body temperature when you get can also help you sleep. Light reading before bed is another option that many people find helpful. To
10. Control your environment. Whether or not you find sleeping in a hotel a pleasant experience, you can improve it by controlling your environment. Cancel out as much outside noise as you can. If need be, get a white noise app on your phone or play soft music to block other noises. Blackout shades or heavy curtains, or even a sleep mask, can block light. Do what you can to keep the temperature comfortably cool--between 60 and 75°F--and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and enough pillows and blankets.
11. Nurture your soul. Finally, do everything you can to nurture yourself. What helps you calm down or relax at home? A massage, a good meal, a long walk, a long talk with a friend--give yourself what you need.
The ability to travel easily really is a modern miracle, even if it may not feel that way when it's the third week of the month and you're already on your fifth business trip. Get the most of it by fighting back against jet lag.