Overcoming jet lag on business trips

06 September 2018

One of the main challenges of long-haul travel for business can be the dreaded jet lag. When your body clock is out of step with your new time zone it can be difficult to function, let alone do business. Here are some tips for how to beat jet lag so when you arrive, you’re ready to work and get the most out of your trip.

Understanding your body clock

Your internal body clock (circadian rhythm) controls when you feel tired and when you feel awake. It is regulated by light, which means that your body becomes used to a particular pattern of day and night. When you travel long-distance to a very different time zone, this rhythm will be out of step with the local time.

Ways to reduce jet lag

Taking these proactive steps may reduce the effects of jet lag before and during your journey.1

  • Change your routine slightly in the days before your trip, to help your body prepare. This doesn’t mean drastic adjustments to your sleeping and waking routine, but just moving them slightly in the direction of the time zone you’ll be travelling to.
  • Update the time on your watch or phone as soon as you board the plane, to adjust mentally.
  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and during your flight. Meanwhile go easy on the alcohol and caffeine.

Once you arrive, try to get some fresh air. Remember your body clock is controlled by light. If you arrive in the morning, exposure to morning light can help you sleep better in the evening. Alternatively, if it’s evening when you arrive but still sunny, pulling down the blinds and avoiding daylight may help you to nod off quicker.

By all means have some coffee if you think it’ll help you keep going, but just remember to balance it with drinking water so you keep hydrated. It’s also best to stop drinking any caffeinated drinks six hours before you want to go to bed. Otherwise it might stop you from sleeping.2

If you can fit it into your schedule, make a quick trip to the gym or do some moderate exercise before you hit the office. Being physically active can help you get over jet lag faster.1

More tips for overcoming jet lag on business trips

  • Pack earplugs and an eye-mask in case you want to use them either on the flight or when you arrive.
  • If you’re only staying a couple of days, your body is unlikely to have time to adjust to local time. It’s probably best to just stick to your usual (home) timings. Although this sounds tough, there’s a silver lining – if you wake up ridiculously early, it’s a great time to get some extra work done undisturbed.
  • Time your meetings well. See if you can shift the time to coincide with daytime at home so you feel more on the ball. Look into whether critical meetings can be held a day or two into your trip, instead of as soon as you land.
  • Request multiple wake-up calls at your hotel – just to make sure you don’t oversleep and miss any commitments.
  • Look into smartphone apps that can help you cope with jet lag. Many of these are free.
  • Speak to a doctor if you feel medication might help. They may suggest sleeping pills or a hormone called melatonin (this isn’t licensed for jet lag, so is only available from specialist travel health clinics).


1Jet lag and sleep phase disorders. Management Approach. BMJ Best Practice., last reviewed April 2018

2Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J et al. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med 2013; 9(11):1195-1200.

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