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Effects of jet lag on business travellers: Debunking the myths

7 May 2021

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

Effects of jet lag on business travellers: Debunking the myths

In April, we hosted a webinar with TimeShifter CEO and Co-Founder Mickey Beyer-Clausen, who, alongside fellow CEO and Chief Scientist Steven Lockley, helped us debunk the myths surrounding jet lag! If you missed the webinar, you can watch it in full here or read on for the key takeaways from this fascinating discussion!

Jetlag disorder can have far-reaching implications

Business travelers have long had to suffer the effects of jetlag. Tiredness and reduced productivity are frustrating, but the symptoms of jetlag can also have more severe consequences. Frequent travelers are more susceptible to accidents. Whether it’s driving away from the airport in their rental car or reporting to work on oil rigs or construction sites, business travelers are more at risk when they are fatigued. Plus, science has also shown serious health implications for workers whose careers require them to travel often. 

Scientific discoveries connect jetlag to our circadian rhythms

To date, the discussion has focused on sleep deprivation, missing the larger picture linking jetlag to the disruption of our circadian rhythms. These rhythms are our internal body clock which uses exposure to light or melatonin to regulate our metabolism, moods, and even our immune systems. 2020 has sadly shown us how crucial it is to keep our immune systems strong. People who are more prone to disrupted circadian patterns, such as shift workers and frequent travelers, are unfortunately more likely to catch viruses and suffer from heart disease or diabetes. 

Jetlag webinar

So which myths are keeping us jet-lagged? 

There is a host of information online and in magazines around combating jetlag. Unfortunately, many of these tips and tricks have no basis in science and could be setting our body’s circadian rhythms further back after air travel. So which myths don’t aid us when we are shifting to a new time zone? 

1. I will stay awake during the flight and sleep when I arrive

We have all heard this one, keeping awake on the flight will make sure we are exhausted when we arrive at our new destination, and that night we can get straight to sleep, ready to hit the ground running in the morning! However, staying awake past our usual 24-hour cycle and excessive light exposure means your body’s internal clock will not be able to reset. While you might have a fantastic night’s sleep, you will still wake up feeling jet-lagged in the following days.

2. I will take a sleeping pill on the plane

Taking sleep medicine and popping in the earplugs might seem like an easy way to guarantee some sleep on your long-haul flight. But by closing your eyes and drifting off, you could be blocking out the light at times when you need it to start resetting your circadian clock. Sleeping pills and other methods that claim to help with jetlag like massages, diets, or acupuncture all have one thing in common. They are all simply masking the issue, focusing on sleep problems rather than addressing the broader causes behind jetlag.

3. I won’t eat on the plane. 

Another jetlag myth that has little basis in science is avoiding food on your flight. Based on research conducted on mice, there is no scientific reason to think that avoiding food or changing our mealtimes can help us reset our biological rhythms. As humans, we have very different digestive systems to mice, and we are hard-wired to eat during the day. So eating at 2 am rather than 2 pm won’t help your jetlag and may leave you with heartburn or stomach problems.  

4. I’ll have a drink when I arrive, so I fall asleep quickly

Sadly your favorite nightcap isn’t the answer to adjusting to your destination time zone. While having a drink when you arrive is perfectly OK, it won’t help your sleep schedule and ultimately won’t relieve the symptoms of jetlag. Even a moderate amount of alcohol can reduce the amount of slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, you will get that evening. The slow-wave period of rest is when the body regenerates and energizes itself for the day ahead, which is even more crucial when trying to get your body’s circadian rhythm back in sync. 

5. I will stick to my home time zone 

This trick for defeating jetlag is perhaps the most difficult to implement. Suggested in the past for travelers making short trips, depending on the number of time zones, this can be an incredibly impractical way to beat jetlag. Even with more minor time differences trying to keep your original time zone can be a lot more work than adapting to your new one. Plus, when you factor in the recent developments in technology, which we will get into soon, you can now adjust to your time change a lot quicker than was previously possible! 

6. I will get on to my new time zone as quickly as possible. 

Perhaps the most common myth surrounding jetlag is that it is best to get onto local time as fast as possible. Sometimes this can be good advice, but depending on your departure time, your original location, and your new destination, it can be setting you up to experience jetlag for even longer. For example, if you leave New York in the evening and fly to Paris, you will arrive in the early morning. If you then go about your day, taking in the natural light in Paris, you will be resetting your body clock to California time! In this case, to reset your circadian clock faster, you would need to avoid light exposure for the first few hours of your trip. 

Woman asleep at work

So enough of what doesn’t work, how do I reset my circadian clock as quickly as possible? 

As we have seen, lots of the tips we used to rely on were contradicting each other! However, what they all have in common is that they fail to address our circadian rhythms. Getting your body’s internal clock to sync to a new time zone is complicated, especially when combining it with important meetings. However, the Timeshifter app makes the latest developments in neuroscience available to travelers in a simple-to-use platform. Tailored to individual needs, business travelers can create a plan to tackle jetlag in less than a minute, plus there is even a quick turnaround option for shorter business trips. Add in the details of your business trip, and Timeshifter will deliver helpful notifications in three-hour increments so you can focus on the business at hand.

In a recent survey of over 70,000 travelers who used the Timeshifter app, 96.4% reported they had no symptoms of severe jetlag after following the advice provided.

Travel managers looking to take care of their teams’ health on the road can use Timeshifter’s monthly reports to seamlessly oversee corporate travelers’ experiences. You can observe the rates at which they followed Timeshifter’s advice and any recorded symptoms of jetlag. You can even assess the cost savings you achieve by negating the side effects of jetlag for your business travelers. Whether you are a travel manager responsible for the business travel of an entire organization or an individual looking to stay healthy during your business trip, Travelperk can help you take advantage of Timeshifter’s cutting-edge technology. Please speak to our customer care team for more details.

Do you know someone who could benefit from banishing jetlag forever?

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