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6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue The goal is to trick your body into changing the timing of your internal clock.

By Greg Wells Edited by Dan Bova

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As an entrepreneur, you likely travel a lot, and you already know that jet lag (which science geeks call "flight dysrhythmia") can cause all kinds of unpleasant symptoms: insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, upset stomach, fatigue and mental fuzziness, to name a few.

Related: Sleep Better When Traveling

And the farther you travel, the worse your jet lag will likely be. Why? Because crossing time zones throws your internal rhythms out of sync with your external environment. It's like your body stays back in New York as you head off to your first meeting in London!

Adding in travel fatigue only intensifies the problems. The term refers to the wear-and-tear that comes from managing various travel stresses: cramped environments limiting movement, restricted food choices, dehydration due to dry cabin air, cabin hypoxia (limited oxygen) and disruption of sleep and other routines.

Changing time zones while dealing with the physical challenges of a new environment can make you feel less than your best the whole time you are away -- and even for a few days more after you return home. The good news is that you can offset these effects of travel fatigue and jet lag by using a few simple tricks.

1. Pre-empt your travel fatigue.

During your trip, attend to your body's needs:

  • Bring some healthy snacks (apples, nuts, carrots, whole grain crackers are great).
  • Make sure you're drinking lots of water (avoid tea, coffee and alcohol). I buy a liter of water as soon as I'm through the security check at the airport. I then drink one liter for each three hour-segment of my flight.
  • Once you get on the plane, stick to the sleep time that you should be on in the new time zone. If your sleep patterns are anchored in your old time zone, jet leg symptoms may worsen. Short power naps of less than 20 minutes are fine if you're really fatigued.

After reaching your destination, support your body's adjustment process:

  • Continue to rehydrate, with non-alcoholic drinks
  • Take a hot shower in the morning and a cool shower in the evening (cooling your body can trigger the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep /wake cycles).
  • Take a brief (less than 20 minutes) nap if needed, but not long enough to disrupt your ability to sleep at night.

2. Grab a bottle of melatonin.

Research shows that melatonin can be useful for overcoming jet lag by helping to regulate your circadian system, which is your body's 24-hour cycle. Melatonin promotes sleep, which is a primary problem for frequent travellers. Taking 0.5-to-5 mg. of melatonin two-to-three hours before your new local bedtime has been shown to improve both nighttime sleep and alertness during the day.

You could also try starting your melatonin routine three days before you leave for your new time zone. While still at home, take the melatonin two-to-three hours before what will be your future bedtime in the new environment. This will help your body adjust to the new rhythms.

Check with your medical or allied health professional for more information on melatonin and what your individual dose and timing should be.

Related: How Business Travel Can Be a Danger to Your Health

3. Structure your caffeine consumption.

While jet lag can make it difficult to fall asleep according to local time, this condition can also make it difficult to stay awake during the day. Stimulants like caffeine can alleviate daytime sleepiness and help re-sync your 24-hour cycle when used in combination with melatonin.

Both fast and slow-release forms of caffeine may help counteract daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia. A simple solution such as tossing a thermos or travel mug full of green tea into your bag for sipping throughout the day may prove helpful.

4. Plan your light exposure.

If you expose yourself to light during what your body (stuck on home time) still thinks is the middle of the night, or you avoid light during what your body still thinks is the middle of the day, you can help your rhythms adjust to the new time zone. In essence, you can trick your body into changing the timing of your internal clock.

If travelling east, try advancing your sleep time by one hour per night three days prior to travel, and expose yourself to bright light when you wake up. Then, when you reach your destination, advance your rhythms by exposing yourself to morning and afternoon light and avoiding evening light.

If travelling west, try delaying your sleep time by one hour per night three days prior to travel. Then, when you reach your destination, delay your rhythms by exposing yourself to evening light and avoiding exposure in the early morning.

5. Make time for physical activity.

Exercise helps in easing the negative effects of jet lag. Physical activity of any sort that coincides with bright light (ideally daylight) exposure will help regulate your internal rhythms. In addition, it's a good idea to exercise at the same time each day, whether you're at home or far away. In other words, if you usually run at 7 a.m. at home, run at 7 a.m. in the new time zone, as well. Your body likes the consistency, which will help you to adjust to your new environment.

6. Consider the length of your stay.

Your "clock genes" are stubbornly resistant to change. Your body prefers to maintain its existing rhythms, which is why there isn't one simple way to cope with jet leg.

So, if you are in a new time zone for only a short period, it's both difficult and ill advised to change your rhythms only to have to return home quickly to the way they were before. You might be better off just living in the new time zone as if you were at home. But when you travel somewhere for a longer period of time, you can actively work to offset jet leg, because your body will have time to adjust.

Use any or all of these tips to make your next trip easier and more enjoyable! If you have some tips or tricks of your own that you use to make travel easier and to maintain your elite performance levels on the road, include them in the comments below.

Related: This Crazy Contraption Straps Your Head to an Airline Seat for Better Sleep

Greg Wells

Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster, Author

Greg Wells is a scientist, professor and author. He is an expert on human performance in extreme conditions.

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