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Jet Lag: The Hidden Costs of Travel

Today, business success requires travel. Many travel-related costs- fractional jet ownership, hotel, car- are obvious. But you may be incurring untold indirect costs as a result of impaired abilities and sub-par performance associated with jet lag. Jet lag exacts a toll on every aspect of your functioning: your judgment and decision-making, your reaction time, and your ability to communicate. It makes you forget things, spoils your mood, and leaves you inattentive and disconnected. But there are some things you can do about it.

What is jet lag?
Jet lag essentially has two components: sleep loss and disruption of the body's internal clock. A few basic facts will help clarify why we experience jet lag.

Sleep is as vital as food and water, and most of us need about eight hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, there are a variety of factors that can conspire against healthy sleep, including age, alcohol, sleep disorders, and yes- travel. If you don't get the sleep you need, the deprivation builds into a cumulative sleep debt, which can build until you are bankrupt from exhaustion.

The body's internal clock-known as the "circadian clock"- has daily rhythms that affect when we eat, sleep and wake, as well as our performance, mood and alertness. Specifically, we are programmed to experience two periods of maximum sleepiness (from at about 3-5 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.) and two periods of peak alertness (about 9-11 a.m. and 9-11 p.m.) each day.

What can you do?
Here are a few things you can do to perform your best while on travel. These example strategies are scientifically valid, practical, and easy to use:

Sleep - Don't Leave Home Without It
For most travelers, one of the best defenses against jet lag is simply to get one to two full nights of eight-hour sleep prior to departure. Pre-trip chores such as running errands and packing can rob you of sleep. But getting two hours less sleep than your body needs for one night can significantly reduce your performance and alertness the next day, and can start accruing a sleep debt before you even depart. So when making your pre-departure list, put "Sleep" at the top.

Napping - The Performance Enhancer
NASA research showed that a short, 26-minute cockpit nap taken in flight by pilots improved their performance 34% and alertness 100%. Imagine what a nap can do for you! Naps are a great tool for promoting alertness (even a little sleep is better than none), but there is an art to effective napping.

  • Nap for up to 45 minutes or for about two hours (to avoid waking out of deep sleep, which can cause grogginess).
  • Allow 15 minutes "wake-up" time after a nap.
  • Avoid a long nap too close to your next sleep period.

Caffeine - A Shot in the Arm
Caffeine can work for you throughout your travels if used strategically:

  • Try to take caffeine in anticipation of when you'll be tired, not as a pick-me-up after the fact.
  • To determine an optimum time, remember:
    Caffeine takes effect within 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Its effects can last three to four hours.
  • Don't use caffeine too close to a planned sleep time.
  • Be aware that chocolate, coffee, ice cream, and other foods can contain caffeine.
  • The amount of caffeine in foods and beverages varies widely.

Flyer Beware
Be cautious about anti-jet lag products. Find out for yourself:

  • Are their claims scientifically based?
  • Has the product been demonstrated safe and effective?
  • Then, after you've done your research, always "ground test" a new strategy before using it on a trip.

Work It
The information in this article is merely an introduction to the alertness strategies available for business travelers. Learn more and then develop a personalized plan to address the particular circumstances of your next trip. Maximize your alertness, and make the most of your business travel.

This information was excerpted from the Alert Traveler Passport, created for business travelers by Alertness Solutions, a consulting firm in Cupertino, CA.