Business travel can energise you with new places, new people and new ideas – but for long-haul journeys, you’ve got to deal with jet lag first.

If you’ve ever travelled across a few time zones, then you’ve probably experienced jet lag for yourself. When you’re travelling for leisure, you may just wait it out. But for business travellers, any amount of lost time and productivity counts.

So, how do you manage jet lag on business trips? Here are some strategies to cope with jet lag – or avoid it altogether.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag happens when your body is out of sync with the time zone you’re in. Our bodies run on a roughly 24-hour cycle that dictates when we feel awake, tired and hungry. When you travel to a time zone that’s three or more hours different than you’re used to, your body is thrown off its rhythm.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

Symptoms vary depending on the person – and even the same person doesn’t always react the same way. Factors such as age can impact the severity of symptoms, and older people tend to experience more jet lag than younger travellers.

Some common symptoms of jet lag include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating

How to avoid jet lag before travelling for business

The best way to handle jet lag on your business trips is to plan ahead and avoid the symptoms. Here are a few things to consider before your flight even leaves the ground.

1. Take your time

If your company’s schedule, budget and travel policy allow, book your trips with an extra day or two at the beginning to adjust. The best way is to blend a personal holiday with your work trip. It’ll give you time to get acclimated before any important meetings or presentations.

2. Schedule your flights right

The first day of a trip is usually the toughest, but with some clever planning you can avoid that struggle. Try to book flights that will arrive in the afternoon or evening so that you can head to bed sooner and be ready for any meetings or work the next morning.

3. Pack smart

Make sure that your carry-on includes all the essentials for a smooth trip and to get a good sleep. If you’d like to nap on your flight, bring a travel pillow, ear plugs and an eye mask.

4. Think ahead

Start adjusting to the new time zone before your trip. Try going to bed one to two hours earlier if you’re travelling east or one to two hours later if you’re travelling west. For smaller time changes, this could mitigate the jet lag effects completely.

How to reduce jet lag while on a business trip

It isn’t always an option to plan the optimal travel schedule, especially for small businesses or corporate travellers with strict budgets. Even if you have meticulously planned your business trip with extra buffer time at the beginning, with an afternoon arrival, and started adjusting your sleep rhythm beforehand, you’ll likely still have some jet lag to contend with.

The best thing you can do is follow the routines of your destination as soon as you arrive. Get natural light in the daytime to help your body adjust and try to limit daytime sleeping to short 15-20 minute naps.

There are a number of other factors that contribute to jet lag recovery, including:

  • Food. Eat small, nutritious meals in the days leading up to your business trip and while travelling to avoid stomach aches or other digestive problems.
  • Screens. The blue light from screens can confuse your circadian rhythm by mimicking daylight. Use this to your advantage to help stay awake and avoid screens for an hour or more before you’d like to sleep.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol can negatively impact your sleep quality. Try to limit or avoid it as much as possible.
  • Caffeine. Be strategic about caffeine consumption and make sure to align it with the routines of your destination.
  • Exercise. Like with caffeine, exercise can be a tool to help you adjust if you time it just right. Try to exercise in the daytime and limit it in the evenings.
  • Water. Due to the low humidity on planes, you get dehydrated much faster than usual while flying – which, in turn, can lead to feeling more fatigued. Increase your water intake leading up to and during your flight.
  • Medication. For more frequent business travellers, a gentle supplement like over-the-counter melatonin can help you sleep better. Consult with a doctor to ensure you’re using any sleep aids responsibly and effectively.

More tips to manage jet lag on your business trips

To optimise your corporate trips, here are a few more tips to get you going.

  • Consider the direction you’re travelling. Jet lag travelling east is generally more severe than jet lag going west, so prepare accordingly.
  • If you have a layover or a travel delay, find an airport lounge to get some extra rest. Use an app to help you navigate unfamiliar airports and even book lounge spots ahead of time.
  • Explore your flight options and consider booking seats that facilitate a better sleep, for example economy comfort or business seats if your travel policy allows. Fully reclining your seat can be the difference between staying wide awake or getting some shut-eye.
  • Don’t drive or operate a vehicle until you’re acclimated to the new time zone. Even if you don’t feel tired, your reaction times and concentration could still be negatively impacted.
  • For shorter business trips, consider keeping your regular schedule. If your trip lasts for fewer than 48 hours, it might not be worth adjusting to the time zone. You’ll likely just end up having to deal with worse jet lag after returning home.

Conclusion

There’s no sugarcoating it: business travel jet lag is a drag. When you’re investing the budget, time and energy into travelling for business then you want to get the most out of every moment. With the right preparation before and during travelling, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running on your next business trip.

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