For many business travelers, jet lag is a legitimate and ongoing challenge that can hinder performance, increase anxiety and create travel resentment. Most business travelers, especially those that cross 2 timezones in travel, express negative impacts and take proactive measures to mitigate symptoms.
What is Jet lag?
Jet lag, also known as desynchronosis or flight fatigue, is a disorder that leads to insomnia, an overall sense of aches and tiredness, and other symptoms that arise due to travel across multiple time zones. It is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, and as creatures of routine, this is an abrupt disruption of our internal clock.
When we travel to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms need time to adjust, anecdotally, regular travelers claim that it takes one day for every one hour of time zone travel. This results in our bodies telling us it is time to sleep when it’s actually the middle of the afternoon, or it makes us want to stay awake when it is late at night. This experience is known as jet lag.
What are the other symptoms?
Besides travel fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms, including anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, indigestion, difficulty concentrating, sweating, coordination problems, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, malaise (a general feeling of being unwell), and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness.
Generally, people do not need a medical evaluation for a diagnosis of jet lag. If you have traveled across several time zones and feel the symptoms associated with jet lag, you likely have it. If your symptoms of jet lag are severe, do not go away after a few days, or you have any other concerns, see a doctor.
How long does it take to recover from jet lag?
Recovering from jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed while traveling. In general, the body adjusts to the new time zone at the rate of 1-2 time zones per day. For example, if you crossed 6 time zones, the body will typically adjust to this time change in 6-8 days. Jet lag is temporary, so the prognosis is excellent and most people will recover in a predictable amount of time. Many travelers report a 1st-day adrenaline bump, meaning their personal effects are delayed and not felt until 2 or even 3 days into their journey.
Complications of jet lag are extremely rare. If a person has a preexisting heart condition, the stress of the disruption in the circadian rhythm, combined with the stress of travel, high altitude, and immobility during flight may result in a heart attack. If the jet lag results in chronic sleep deprivation, stroke may occur in certain predisposed individuals.
What causes jet lag?
The cause of jet lag is the inability of the body of a traveler to immediately adjust to the time in a different zone. Thus, when a New Yorker arrives in Paris at midnight Paris time, his or her body continues to operate on New York time. As the body struggles to cope with the new schedule, temporary insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and an impaired ability to concentrate may set in. The changed bathroom schedule may cause constipation or diarrhea, and the brain may become confused and disoriented as it attempts to juggle schedules.
How business travelers cope with jet lag?
– Work with your travel consultant to select a flight that allows early evening arrival and stay up until 10 p.m. local time. (If you must sleep during the day, take a short nap in the early afternoon, but no longer than two hours. Set an alarm to be sure not to over sleep.)
– Anticipate the time change for trips by getting up and going to bed earlier several days prior to an eastward trip and later for a westward trip.
– Upon boarding the plane, change your watch to the destination time zone.
– Taking sleeping pills, like Melatonin, are commonly accepted measures used to minimize certain sleep disorders.
– Avoid alcohol or caffeine at least three to four hours before bedtime. Both act as “stimulants” and prevent sleep.
– Upon arrival at a destination, avoid heavy meals (a snack—not chocolate—is okay).
– Avoid any heavy exercise close to bedtime. (Light exercise earlier in the day is fine.)
– Bring earplugs and blindfolds to help dampen noise and block out unwanted light while sleeping.
– Try to get outside in the sunlight whenever possible. Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock. (Staying indoors worsens jet lag.)
– Contrary to popular belief, the type of foods we eat has no effect on minimizing jet lag.
According to experts, stress or the potential for stress is another problem that can lead to sleeplessness. Two common travel-related stress conditions are the “First Night Effect” and the “On-Call Effect.” The first condition occurs when trying to sleep in a new or unfamiliar environment. The second is caused by the nagging worry that something just might wake you up, such as the possibility of a phone ringing, hallway noise or another disruption.
Try these tips on your next trip to help avoid travel-related stress and subsequent sleeplessness:
– Bring elements or objects from home, like a picture of the family, favorite pillow, blanket or even a coffee mug) to ease the feeling of being in a new environment.
– Check with the hotel to see if voice mail services are available to guests. Then, whenever possible, have your calls handled by the service.
– Check your room for potential sleep disturbances that may be avoided; e.g., light shining through the drapes, unwanted in-room noise, etc.
– Request two wake-up calls in case you miss the first one.