If anyone knows about beating jet lag, it’s Michelle Peluso, president and CEO of Travelocity, the $830 million travel Web site. She takes fifty trips a year—nearly one a week—to Asia, Europe, and South America to keep in touch with Travelocity’s branch offices. “I travel at least 50 percent more than I did ten years ago, now that Travelocity is a global company,” she says, adding that businesswomen in general are traveling more than ever. “We are seeing more women executives, and travel gets more intense as you move up the ranks.”
As travel increases, so does jet lag, which occurs when the body’s biological clock falls out of sync with local time. “Jet lag affects sleep and alertness, so certainly if you’re jet-lagged, your performance is impaired,” says Helen Burgess, Ph.D., assistant director of the Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Peluso’s strategy for beating jet lag starts on the way to the airport, when she sets her watch to her destination’s time zone. She has a meal at home or at the airport before boarding. “That way I don’t have to wait an hour on the plane for meal service,” she says.
Once on board, she puts on an eye mask and takes half of the adult dosage of Tylenol PM. This helps her fall asleep, but not enough that she’s groggy for her upcoming meetings. “I also tell the flight attendant not to wake me for breakfast, so I can get maximum sleep,” she adds.
Burgess, who often flies to her native Australia or to attend conferences in other countries, adjusts her biological clock before her trip. “If I’m flying east [the direction most likely to trigger jet lag], I go to sleep progressively one hour earlier and get up one hour earlier for three nights,” she says. When flying west, she does the opposite. She also takes a 0.5 milligram dose of melatonin, available in health food stores, five hours before bedtime during those three days. (Passengers should not take sleep medication before a long flight, Burgess says, since remaining immobile for the entire trip can increase the risk of blood clots.) Finally, she adds, “If I’m speaking at a conference, I’ll get to my destination a day or two early to give myself time to adjust, so I’ll be more alert.”
Peluso always packs her ipod and sneakers and asks the hotel concierge for a safe jogging route. Many frequent travelers find getting exercise is perhaps the best way to revive and be ready for a meeting when the local time is 9 a.m. But your body thinks it’s still 3 a.m.
Top three ways to avoid jet lag:
Michelle Peluso, CEO, Travelocity:
1. On the plane, drink lots of water and avoid alcohol.
2. Use an eye mask and take a low dose of a nighttime pain reliever.
3. At your destination, get some exercise between meetings.
Helen Burgess, Ph.D., Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory:
1. Adjust your bedtime to your destination’s time zone beforehand.
2. Take a low dose of melatonin in the days before departure.
3. Arrive early so your body can adjust before you go to work.
By Kathryn Whitbourne