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Reducing the Drag of Jet Lag

The first time I crossed more than 4 time zones was about 15 years ago when I was asked to travel from the United States to Madrid to give a presentation...on managing jet lag for business travelers. Let's be clear that I had no personal experience with jet lag, but the people in my company at the time who did have expertise in this area did not speak Spanish. So there I was standing in a room full of 50 business travel journalists ready to take diligent notes on my "expert" advice on jet lag management. I truly don't remember what I said, in part due to the tremendous stupor I was in due to jet lag!

I had arrived the morning before the presentation at about 8am after being up all day in the U.S. and then traveling overnight on the flight. I am almost certain that I did not follow jet lag protocol and instead took advantage of the food, drinks, and in-flight entertainment in the business class cabin. My first trip to Europe! I landed in Madrid ready to see all of the sights in the one free day I had prior to my presentation the following morning. I did fine at first in all of the excitement of being in such a wonderful city, but started to feel the crash by early afternoon. I was disappointed to see how small their coffee cups were in the coffee shops coming from the super-sized way of life in the U.S. Luckily, Starbucks came to the rescue. I went for the Venti, confident that I would be brought back to life in no time. Instead I woke up an hour later with the nearly full cup in my lap. I didn't even realize I had fallen asleep. I managed to drag myself around the city until dusk, but wasn't able to fully enjoy the experience.

Since that time, I have traveled to more than 25 countries and crossed more than 12 time zones many times. And I can say that I have learned to manage jet lag with the best of the road warriors. I was considered the "travel ninja" amongst colleagues who would travel with me, due to my uncanny ability to get on the new time schedule immediately and make the most of the free time I had. I had one particular colleague who started booking the same flight as me to be able to mimic everything I did after having several bad experiences with jet lag.

I want to be clear that jet lag is not a psychological phenomenon that you can just control at will. It is a physiological circadian rhythm sleep disorder that occurs due to a disconnect between the body's internal clock and the clock time in the external environment. This disconnect has an effect on internal signaling and cellular processes in the brain and body that result in a variety of symptoms, such as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, poor quality sleep, lack of focus, headaches, and gastrointestinal symptoms. But there are actions you can take to reduce the disconnect.

Because the light/dark cycle and melatonin are critical components in the circadian system, they also play an important role in the management of jet lag. There are strategies that can be implemented before travel that involve phase shifting as well as strategies during and after travel that can help speed up the transition or reduce the negative symptoms of the circadian desynchronization. There is also, of course, trial-and-error, practice, and discovering what works best for you.

There are many options and strategies that you can try for reducing the symptoms of jet lag, including medications for sleep. I do not use sleep aides outside of melatonin, but they are an option that you can discuss with your doctor. If you would like access to my free 6-page guide on Strategies for Jet Lag Management that includes information on jet lag and travel fatigue, pre-travel phase shifting, strategies during travel and what to pack for the plane, strategies upon arrival, and additional resources for calculating light/dark cycle exposure please visit my website at: and download the guide from my home page

Wishing all of you road warriors out there the best! A travel ninja you shall be.

If anyone has additional comments outside of what is in my jet lag management guide, please share!

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