How to avoid jet lag if you're travelling for business

The jet-set lifestyle of your average business traveller must seem awfully glamorous to outsiders, but all that flitting between time zones plays havoc with their body clocks, and jet lag is usually the result.

This can have a detrimental impact on people's minds and productivity, as their body calls out for sleep first thing in the morning and then leaves them wide awake when they need to sleep at night.

Jet lag can also adversely affect a person's digestive system, concentration levels, and overall mood. This isn't an ideal situation if someone's flown halfway around the world to schmooze clients or close a down a large business deal and needs to be on top of their game.

It can take days for a person's internal clock to sync with the time zone of the place they're in and for the symptoms of jet lag to fade, but the reality is business trips are rarely long enough to accommodate this.

Thankfully, there are some steps travellers can take in the lead-up to a trip, during the flight and once they've landed at their destination to help shake it off, and ensure maximum business productivity.

Pre-flight precautions

The severity of jet lag is intrinsically linked to the number of time zones a person has travelled through, with NHS Direct claiming that most people start to experience symptoms after crossing at least three.

However, some people are more susceptible and sensitive to the effects of air travel than others, and the symptoms of jet lag are still keenly felt regardless of whether they're flying long- or short-haul.

Either way, GP and online physician Dr. Tony Steele said there are a number of things people can do before they board to lessen the effects of jet-lag when they reach their destination.

"Going to bed nearer to the destination location's bedtime will help, as will ensuring sufficient sleep is gained (six-to-eight hours recommended minimum) in the night's leading up to the trip," he says.

It can take days for a person's internal clock to sync with the time zone of the place they're in and for the symptoms of jet lag to fade.

Some of the symptoms of jet lag echo those of dehydration, so potential travellers should ensure they drink plenty of water before they fly, especially as the artificial air on planes can be particularly drying.

"Keeping the body well hydrated is also helpful and good for health in general, so is advisable not only prior to travelling but during flights, and at all other times," he adds.

Rebecca Robbins is the co-founder of Sleep for Success, a US-based consulting company that offers businesses advice on how to get the most out of their workers by offering a mix of health and lifestyle tips.

She advocates the use of light therapy as a means of speeding up the time it takes our internal clock, or circadian rhythm, to catch up to the new time zone we're in.

"The area of the brain that monitors your circadian rhythm is right behind the eyeball, so light [levels] have a huge impact on how we sleep," she explains.

"So, the number one thing for tackling jet lag is using light strategically."

Light therapy can be used to help people get their body clock in sync with their destination time zone before they even take-off, so they're more likely to be raring to go when they land.

"If you're flying west [from London to New York] you need to expose yourself to light in the afternoon to extend your circadian rhythm," says Robbins.

"Now, if you're going east, [from the US] to Central Europe or Asia, you need to do the opposite and expose yourself to light in the morning."

To do this successfully does require some advance planning, as research suggests it takes around a day to shift a person's body clock back or forward an hour. So, if you're flying across three or more time zones, you'll need to start making preparations several days before.

If, for example, someone's travelling eastwards across four time zones, it's recommended that travellers wake up and go to bed one hour earlier than usual four days before they're due to take off, and then move that routine back by another hour in the successive days.

So, if you're someone that always gets eight hours sleep, and goes to bed at 10pm and rises at 6am, on day four you should be tucked up in bed by 6pm and have the alarm set for a 2am wake-up call.

Upon waking on each of these days, the traveller should use a light therapy box, like those offered by Litebook or Lumie, for at least an hour to help their body's acclimatise, it is advised.

On-board jet lag avoidance

If it's not possible to shake-up your sleeping routine in the days leading up to a trip, Dr. Steele says travellers, particularly those travelling west, should try and get some sleep while in the air.

However, he says travellers should be wary of using sleeping pills or alcohol to induce sleep mid-air.

"I would not recommend travellers drink more than a little alcohol during the flight, as far from helping rest, it can actually act as a stimulant and disrupt sleep on arrival," he warns.

"Sleeping pills or benzodiazepine-type drugs can induce sleep or calm on a flight, but there is a danger of reliance and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if these treatments are used too frequently."

Furthermore, sleeping pills can often lead to drowsiness and affect concentration the next day, he adds, making their use counter-productive for anyone who is flying for work purposes.

"These effects will prove unproductive for anyone travelling for work [as] they will need to be firing on all cylinders to perform at their peak."

On landing, the temptation to get checked into a hotel and take a nap can be overpowering, but sleep expert Robbins says that's the last thing travellers should do.

"When you arrive, the best thing to do would be to walk around a bit, and get adjusted to the fact you're in a darker or lighter environment to help your circadian rhythm adjust accordingly," she says.

"Keep to your normal schedule as best you can, and make sure to exercise because it's a mood elevator and can help to regulate stress."

Touch down come down

A common problem in those suffering jet lag is that, when bedtime does eventually roll round, they're wide awake and alert, making it difficult to sleep.

In situations like this supplements containing a synthetic version of the body clock-regulating hormone melatonin can prove useful, offers Dr. Steele.

"Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, the levels of which fluctuate in the body during the day," he explains.

The hormone is usually released in the evening to let your body know that bedtime is approaching, and prepare it for sleep.

Conversely, production usually stops when it starts getting light, signifying to your body that it's nearing the time to wake up.

"By taking a supplement containing melatonin, such as Circadin, half an hour before bedtime in the destination country, sleep should be gently induced, helping the body settle into the new time zone," adds Steele.

However, it's only available on prescription in the UK, despite being offered as an over-the-counter remedy in the US.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.