Business travel often sounds so exciting. A trip to a different continent. Free flights. A few days of working in a new place and a calendar full of important meetings or events. Your friends whose companies don’t send them trips abroad often tell you how lucky you are.
There’s just one problem. Every time you travel to a far-off country, your body doesn’t fully cooperate. The timezone difference messes up your circadian rhythm—your 24-hour internal clock—and you experience jet lag. How are you supposed to represent your company successfully at meetings and events when you’re drained of energy?
Difficult as it may sound, there’s a way to beat jet lag—or at least minimise its adverse effects on the body, such as insomnia and fatigue. Doing so can spell the difference between a sales prospect warming up to you or finding you unenthusiastic. It can help give you the energy and patience to negotiate deals or man a booth at an exhibit all day long, and even squeeze in a client dinner or a nice evening stroll.
Beating jet lag can also help save your business money. A 2016 study by Kayak and Airbus found that jet lag costs UK businesses at least more than £240 million a year due to productivity loss and mistakes made by sleepy, jet-lagged employees. Jet-lagged employees’ productivity at work is estimated to be a mere 61 per cent, according to the same study.
For business travellers flying to another continent, here are some tips to combat jet lag.
😴 Begin adjusting your sleep incrementally before you travel
If you know your destination is five hours behind your own time zone, try sleeping later than your usual bedtime two nights before your trip.
For instance, if you leave on Monday, try to sleep 90 minutes later on Saturday and another 90 minutes later on Sunday.
📆 Plan your flight strategically
Say your origin country and your destination have opposite time zones—for example, New York and Singapore.
If you leave at 1:00 a.m. Singapore time, that’s 1:00 p.m. in New York. Force yourself to stay awake on the flight until 9:00 a.m. Singapore time, when it's evening in New York. Then try to get six to eight hours of sleep.
That way, you will have begun to adjust your sleep schedule to your destination’s time zone, even when you’re still on the air.
🍵 Drink calming herbal tea
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you can’t fall asleep at night, try drinking chamomile or lavender tea.
Chamomile tea has been used for treating insomnia for many years, as it is known to have tranquillising and sleep-inducing qualities. Research has shown lavender to be effective in speeding up the onset of sleep and relieving restlessness.
🛬 Avoid sleeping upon arrival
This tip applies to business travellers who arrive at their destination in the morning or afternoon. Stay refreshed by taking a quick shower—but avoid napping, as you might end up sleeping for hours instead.
But if you really, really have to, take a power nap, which should be no longer than 30 minutes if you want to wake up refreshed and alert. To be sure your nap won’t extend into an hours-long sleep, you can ask the hotel staff to give you a wake-up call in case you’re still in your room by a given time.
🏋🏻 Exercise from time to time
Take a brisk walk or do some stretching to stay alert. You can start doing this on the plane by getting up and walking down the aisle once in a while.
Conversely, if you’re finding it difficult to sleep at night, try a good workout at the hotel gym or pool to make your body crave some rest.
🍺 Avoid or minimise caffeine and alcohol intake
While a shot of espresso may wake you up and a glass of wine may lull you to sleep, these drinks can make you dehydrated and diminish your sleep quality.
If you must drink coffee, avoid too much of it, as you don’t want to suffer a caffeine crash when meeting with potential clients.
And note that even if you take a cup of coffee in the morning, 25 per cent of it is likely to remain in your system come evening, as caffeine can stay in your system for as long as 24 hours.
💡 Control your exposure to light
Your body clock adjusts to changes in natural light, so take advantage of this fact. Catch some sunlight if you feel tempted to doze off at mid-afternoon. Watch a sunset or step out into the street at dusk, as your pineal gland releases melatonin—the ‘sleep hormone’—when the light fades.
At night, use warm lighting in your hotel room. Once you’ve turned the lights off, avoid using your cell phone, as your body may confuse the screen’s ‘blue light’ for daylight. Keep in mind that your body relies partly on light signals to release melatonin.
📱 Get help from apps
If you wear a fitness tracker on your wrist, see if it’s compatible with an app that monitors sleep schedule and quality.
A manageable problem
Of course, jet lag is normal and not completely avoidable when you move between time zones that are hours apart.
There’s no cure for it, says Steve Simpson, the researcher Qantas hired to help design an in-flight experience that would mitigate jet lag. His strategies include adjusting cabin lighting and in-flight meal times to suit the destination country’s time zone as much as possible.
But by applying these tips, you can reduce the extent of your fatigue and mitigate the negative effects of jet lag on your performance.