It’s 3 a.m. on a Monday morning. In Paris. Your first meeting starts in a few hours and you’re staring at the ceiling with all the energy of a person about to go out on the town. Welcome to what most business travelers encounter as they fly through time zones: jet lag.
It usually throws you off a day or two after arrival, with the unpleasant realization that you can neither sleep nor function like every other normal person in your new city. And, it could take days more for your body to adjust.
I’m no doctor, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that help me cope with the jet lag energy imbalance in a way that doesn’t require a trip to the drug store:
Tip #1: Figure out the schedule. Then stick to it.
Getting on schedule right away is key. When planning your flight, try to figure out what time you land in your destination city. Then work backward into the flight and the day before travel to figure out when it would be a good time to take a nap, wake up a little early or stay up late. Once you’ve arrived, do your best to wake up at a normal time, or stay in bed in a dark room until it’s time to get up.
When I fly into a new time zone, I try and stay up until at least 10 p.m. local time to help my body adjust. Midday naps are generally not a good idea, but if you need to rest for 20 minutes or so to regain energy – do it!
Tip #2: Make bedtime a big deal.
Nighttime rituals are a great way to cue your body that sleep is coming. If you have a nighttime ritual at home definitely use it on the road, but get started a little earlier than usual. I usually prepare to settle down and hour or two early by dimming the lights in my hotel room, turning down any noise like the TV or radio, or taking a bath. I also order chamomile tea from room service. It’s a simple treat that’s great for calming and slowing you down before bed.
Tip #3: Wear yourself out.
Do your best during the day to get as tired as possible so you’re ready to crash when it’s nighttime. Work out at the hotel gym. Walk to lunch or your next meeting instead of taking a taxi or public transit. Take the stairs. The bottom line is that being physically tired by the time bedtime rolls around will help you sleep through the night.
Tip #4: Eat right.
Aaaah the business dinner: rich sauces, pepper and garlic-coated steaks, bottles of wine, and enough butter to bathe in. The same ingredients that upset your stomach at home are guaranteed to do so on the road, too. Protein is your friend. Instead of a sugary breakfast pastry, consider oatmeal. At mealtime, consider steak or chicken instead of pasta. Protein will help you maintain energy longer throughout the day.
Tip #5: Drink smart.
If you’re trying to fall asleep with a glass of beer, remember that although a little alcohol may make you sleepy at first, it usually decreases the chance you’ll get a good night’s sleep. Alcohol is also a great dehydrator, so be sure to sip water with your wine if you choose to imbibe. Of course, throughout the flight and during the day, it’s important to continuously down H2O to combat the pesky dehydration that’s symptomatic of jetlag.
And If you’re trying to wake up, caffeine may give you a zip in the morning, but it usually causes a crash after only a few hours. Consider drinking caffeinated teas instead of coffee. You’ll get the same buzz, but without the dramatic energy crash.
Jet lag afflicts all road warriors at some point in their travels. In all cases, a little time and patience must be considered when asking your body and brain to catch up in a new time zone. But following these five simple steps has been invaluable in getting me back on my feet and back to work – all at a reasonable hour.
Do you have any tried-and-true jet lag tips you'd like to share? Tell us in the comments below!