As an Englishman living in the United States, and working in the travel industry, I have found myself on thousands of long-haul flights across the course of my life. Many of those trips have been for work, so I haven’t had the luxury of napping off my jetlag on the beach. Because of that, I’ve learned a few things along the way about the “hows” and “whys” of jet lag, and how it can affect business travel.
First thing’s first: the Mayo Clinic defines jet lag as “a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones.” When you take off from one place, you are very likely in the rhythm of that particular time zone. If you’re boarding a plane at 8 a.m. in Boston, you’re probably wide awake and digesting your breakfast. Your flight to Tokyo to meet with a supplier will take some time though—you’ll probably spend at least 16 hours getting there. You’ll land at 1:45 p.m. in Tokyo. Normally at this time, you might be settling into an afternoon of work after lunch. But now, you have flown across numerous time zones, and it’s actually 1:45 the next day. Your body clock is completely disrupted. After spending a long time in the air, your body’s inclination is to find the nearest bed and sleep, but it’s only 1:45 in the afternoon—you’ve got work to do. For any business traveler, jet lag can be a real concern.
My first tip is to stay awake! It is very easy to tell yourself that you will just lay down for 20 minutes. Rarely does that actually happen, as you may discover when you wake up five hours later. Even if it seems impossible, plan to stay up and have an early bedtime on local time. You will acclimate to the new time zone faster.
Many people find exercise to be helpful, whether that means stretching in your hotel room, a sweaty workout at the gym, or just walking around and exploring the city before your meetings start. Travel Leaders Corporate has recently partnered with Context Travel to give our clients’ travelers the option of booking guided walking tours with docents. It’s a great way to get to know your destination, and beat jet lag.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself more wired than tired, ride the wave of energy and see what work you can get done. As long as you’re up, it could be a good time to get your inbox cleared and get going on the next day’s work.
In addition to only going to bed on local time, try to eat on local time, too. Even if your body thinks it’s 1 a.m., if your host country’s actual time is 7 p.m., sit down for dinner and attempt to eat something. This will help you as you get used to your new time zone.
One of the best things you can do for jet lag, however, comes before you even step on the plane for your business trip: work with a Travel Management Company (TMC). A TMC can’t completely obliterate the jet lag that comes from long-haul business trips, but they can help ameliorate it. By finding options like fewer connecting flights, flights that leave at better times, or even hotels that provide amenities to help with jet lag, a TMC’s travel experts can make business travel a little more pleasant.
How do I know? While flying home to England to conduct some business, my corporate travel agent recommended that I take a daytime flight to London. Normally I try to take the overnight flight, but as my travel agent pointed out, if I was willing to fly during the day, I would land in the evening, and be able to get into London time much more quickly. Even a road warrior like me needs help in seeing the bigger picture of work travel. That trip was one of my more productive ones, since I had very little jet lag and could jump into work the next morning.
Sometimes, you just need to leave things in the hands of the pros. If jet lag is making your business trips miserable, I highly recommend finding a good travel consultant to guide you.