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Traveling Executives Share How To Cure Jet Lag When Coming Home From Business Trips

March 21st, 2017 /

I’m no stranger to jet lag. After traveling on business for much of my career, I’m well-versed in the tired feeling that hits you at 4pm, the inability to fall asleep every night, and the general fatigue that comes with being a road warrior.

Jet lag is the absolute worst thing about business travel as far as I’m concerned, and research shows it’s a form of occupational stress that companies rarely give due significance. Even those of us who travel coast-to-coast can experience the symptoms of an unadjusted body clock or circadian rhythm disorder—because jet lag is indeed considered a diagnosable sleep disorder. It’s important to give this condition the respect it deserves because its effects on the body and mind can be serious. Luckily, scientists have done more than measure the masochism of business travelers—they’ve also provided us with pharmaceutical and behavioral ways of combatting jet lag and returning to a normal sleeping schedule.

Jet lag can be a serious problem for business travelers.

Image by Flickr user Michael Coghlan.

Symptoms and Effects

Speaking with fellow travelers in the medical profession, I’ve learned that jet lag is much more than just being tired at inappropriate times. Symptoms also include headache, irritability, digestive problems, and loss of concentration—all factors that undoubtedly lessen the effectiveness of your performance in that big sales meeting.

It’s important to be aware of the long-term effects of jet lag because the facts really are staggering. In women, chronic exposure to jet lag (as seen in flight attendants) can even disrupt their monthly cycle. Chronic jet lag also results in higher cortisol levels, which has a significant effect on brain performance. And that’s the best case scenario—at the other end of the spectrum, scientists have found that jet lag can cause cancer and significantly increase tumor growth.

Planning ahead can be a great help in reducing your risk. Avoid sleep aids on the plane, as this can mess up your circadian rhythm even further. Hydrate fully with water and non-caffeinated tea while avoiding alcohol and caffeine as much as possible. These steps give your brain the chance to naturally recuperate without making your jet lag worse.

There’s no pill to cure jet lag—but there are some that might help you get to sleep.

There’s no pill to cure jet lag—but there are some that might help you get to sleep. Image by Flickr user Martinak15.

Treating With Substances

Many substances are marketed as cures for jet lag. From essential oils to cooling temple balm and vitamin cocktails, you can find any number of homeopathic remedies that claim to treat the symptoms—and a handful might be successful. Unfortunately, using these remedies is like putting a band-aid over a knife wound; it won’t truly solve the problem.

Only natural light really treats the disorder by re-aligning your circadian system. However, generally speaking, it takes about one day per time zone that you cross to get fully back to normal. And when you’re flying for business each week, your body is in a constant state of recovery. The bottom line is that you need sleep in order to function while the rest of you catches up.

Melatonin is the most commonly used sleep aid and works wonders for some of the executives I spoke with. Take a dose of this hormone when it’s time to sleep at night. One study also discusses taking a much smaller nightly dose of melatonin as a preventative measure. If you’re not opposed to medication, this might be the way to go. I’d be very interested to see if this “maintenance dose” approach could help fellow business travelers overcome jet lag in the long-term.

Get as much sunshine in your new time zone as possible to help your body adjust.

Get as much sunshine in your new time zone as possible to help your body adjust. Image by Flickr user Georgie Pauwels.

Treating Behaviorally

As far as “natural” cures for jet lag, there’s really only one: staying put long enough for your body to transition back to a normal sleep schedule. When that’s not possible, there are other methods that help the problem resolve faster:

  • Keep your schedule intact. One option is to stay on home time for short trips. Maintaining your eating, sleeping, and exercise schedule in alignment with your home time zone can help keep your body feeling great when you return. However, this option is only feasible if you’re able to schedule business meetings strategically while on the road.
  • Utilize bright light therapy. Yes, you can attempt bright light therapy with the use of a visor or a light box, but the best source of light is free and usually abundant. Time your daily sun exposure carefully so you’re experiencing morning and afternoon sunshine while you adjust to the new schedule. Conversely, keep your hotel room as dark as possible if you have trouble sleeping during normal nighttime hours.
  • Experiment with your diet. I’d only suggest this option if you are really serious about conquering your jet lag. As tested by military personnel, the Argonne Diet—a complicated way of timing your protein and carb intake—has been proven to significantly reduce symptoms of jet lag. However, it’s quite an involved (and uncomfortable) process.

If you’re interested in an easier experiment, try fasting instead. This largely untested theory states that if you don’t eat for fourteen hours before your flight, your body’s clock may reset when you begin eating again. But both options require a trade-off: how much are you willing to sacrifice comfort and/or concentration leading up to your trip in order to reduce jet lag later? Extreme diet changes may impact your ability to perform in meetings just as much as jet lag could.

Some studies recommend fasting as a remedy for jet lag, so consider skipping in-flight meals.

Some studies recommend fasting as a remedy for jet lag, so consider skipping in-flight meals. Image by Flickr user Austrian Airlines.

The Importance of Self-Care

Personally, I hated dealing with jet lag so much that I simply decided to reduce my monthly travel percentage altogether. However, you may not have the ability to cut back—whether you’re traveling as part of a company mandate or you’re trying to build your own business. It’s these situations where you have to try new remedies until you find one that works for you.

In the end, your main concern should be your personal well-being. You have to draw the line regarding how much jet lag is too much and how often you can jump time zones. This is putting yourself first. You’re ensuring that the product your company is sending—you—is performing at its highest potential.

In the rare occasion that I know I’m going to be jet lagged, I give myself the very best chance for good sleep that I can. For me, that means booking a 4- or 5-star hotel and making sure my room is quiet and removed from elevators, vending machines, and stairwells. Sounds like a tall request—but these are the benefits I receive as a member with JetLux Hotels. Their outstanding customer service takes all the stress out of booking my perfect room and is one way that I put myself first. Reach out to us today to learn more about how your JetLux membership can help you travel smarter.

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