The zombie-state of jet lag is a notorious condition for the community of travelers jumping from one time zone to another. As I constantly travel long distances for short periods of time, I worked out a method which keeps my overall inner clock intact. Let’s dive into how you can avoid jet lag with the help of technologies!

Jet lag – The hidden cost of traveling

You feel like your brain is covered with fog, deep fatigue rains over your body, sometimes aligned with nausea and constipation. No matter what you do, you wake up at 3 am at night and feel totally worn down the next day. For three to five days in a row. Every long-haul traveler knows these symptoms too well: the description of jet lag. It is the disruption of our inner body clock or circadian rhythm that is responsible for regulating body functions such as sleep, alertness, activity periods, metabolic cycles and digestion. What happens when you cross time zones is that your body, your cells, and your overall inner clock cannot keep up with the pace of change in time zones. The inner body clock cannot reset itself as quickly as the plane crosses continents.

It’s a severe health problem for travelers and costs millions due to decreased productivity and wasted quality time. A study conducted by Kayak, a software engineer company specialized for finding the best flight options, and aerospace product manufacturer, Airbus found among 1,000 UK travelers that on average, 2.2 days of every long-haul travel was impacted by the effects of jet lag; equating to a staggering total of 65 million days of holiday in the past year. Most airlines even run fatigue risk management programs for their staff to help pilots cope with jet lag. Captains are even allowed to call in ‘fatigued’ when they feel like they are too jet-lagged to carry out their jobs safely. However, what should average conference-goers or business-trip travelers do if they don’t have this option?

avoid jet lag

Does a panacea to jet lag exist?

As jet lag results from the fact that our body lags behind the speed of our travelings, and adjusts only one hour or one-and-a-half hours per day, the short answer is no, there is no miracle cure for it. (Sorry for the bad news.) We can only employ specific strategies and tricks to either ease the symptoms or somehow preserve the inner body clock intact in spite of the change in the environment.

As an example for the former, there are many experiments with light, food, temperature or sleep patterns. For example, Airbus employs ambient lighting to reflect how natural light keeps passengers circadian rhythms in check. Another airline experiments with modifications to the service schedules, lighting systems, menu composition, or temperature regulation to help their passengers. Some use synthetic melatonin – a hormone that helps to set the body’s sleep cycle – as a popular alternative to sleeping pills to help with the adjustment in sleeping. Some go to the extremes in finding a solution: a three-minute-long cryotherapy in a chamber at 166 degrees below zero promises to take care of jet lag – for a long time. Even the Queen is said to have a strategy: she relies on barley sugar, apparently.

While these strategies rather aim at alleviating the unpleasant symptoms of jet lag, I use another tactic for short-term long-haul travels. That is to preserve my circadian rhythm intact in spite of the change in my environment. How is that possible? Of course with technologies. Let me show you how!

Avoid jet lag

When I travel to the land of the rising sun

There is one rule that has to be taken into consideration when you want to beat jet lag: the direction of your travels. It matters whether you are flying east or west. Both experts and travelers agree that people find it easier to adjust to time changes when flying west. Thus, here is my strategy for conquering the East without symptoms of jet lag.

I recently traveled to Japan to give a keynote in Osaka about how artificial intelligence will impact the pharma industry and healthcare. On the day of my journey from Frankfurt to Osaka, I woke up before 5 am to make the day longer and sleep for the last hours of the flight to Japan. This way, I slept 4 hours that “evening” but was only awake for 13 hours.

On the second day, I arrived in the bright Japanese morning seven hours ahead of my biological clock, gave a talk at noon and kept myself awake until 11 pm Osaka time. This way, I slept for 6 hours and was awake for 18 hours. On the third day, I flew back to Budapest through Frankfurt. I slept two more hours on the plane and arrived home at 7 pm. I kept myself awake until 11 pm and woke up the next day at 7 am as if nothing happened.

avoid jet lag
Osaka, Japan

When I travel to the West

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Philadelphia to give a keynote at the ChpI conference about the technological future of the supply chain in pharma. I talked about how new technologies will shape the supply chain from producing to distributing drugs and how we can get the most out of digital health. As I wanted to be at the top of my game, and I would have felt devastated had I lost my edge due to jet lag, compared to my Japanese journey, I applied a „reversed strategy” here.

Before the day of getting on the plane from Budapest to the US, I have plenty of good night sleep – as I know that the first day of traveling will be very long. I usually try to be very active and work through the entire flight, but I try not to overstretch it as I have to wake up very early the next day. In Philadelphia, I went to bed after 22 hours of being awake at around 10 pm and woke up the next day at 4 am. That means my second day is usually another long day, approximately 15 hours of work and other activities.

However, it is certain that I’ll sleep right after I will get onto the plane back home, and I will wake up on the third day of my trip right in the morning according to European time – without any jet lag. As that’s usually a shorter day compared to the ones before, I work-out or have a lighter run in the evening after I get home.

How did I achieve these? The key is careful planning and strict implementation. My goal is to feel sharp and focused whenever I have a keynote speech, so I plan my journeys taking into account my sleep pattern, metabolism, and environmental factors. Besides, the jetlagrooster website helps me with figuring out the nitty-gritty details of the actual trip.

Keynote in Philadelphia

The road to preserve your inner circadian clock on short journeys

I could never have planned my trip to Japan or Philadelphia according to my inner clock if I hadn’t known what my body needs regarding sleep, food or other factors. It has been a long journey to get to know myself to the point where I can make a jetlag-free long-haul travel possible, but with the help of technology, I could do it.

1) My sleep pattern

The first step was to get to know my sleep. I have been measuring my sleep for years with various sleep sensors and trackers, and it took me years to find my jackpot solution. I tried many sensors and apps and even did a 6-month-long sleep experiment to figure out what’s the best for me. By now, I perfectly know my sleep patterns.

For example, if I’m exercising late, eat sugary food or drink alcohol, I will not get a good night’s sleep. If I only have light meals, hydrate well and have a balanced work-out, I’ll wake up in the morning well and relaxed. But don’t worry you do not have to wait years to figure out how to get some good shut-eye, I give you plenty of tools to do so in less time than I did.

2) Smart sleep alarm

The Holy Grail of sleep tracking is the smart sleep alarm function. It means that the sensor wakes you up when you are not in deep sleep but rather in your light sleep cycle, so waking up doesn’t make you groggy, but feels like the natural order of things. That’s what I used before my trip to trick my body into lengthening my days to adjust myself easily and pleasantly to the expected changes in time zone. Trying to adapt your body to the given time zone beforehand is a standard method to help you avoid jet lag, and now the smart sleep alarm could help me still wake up at the most convenient time to start my day. It is the perfect strategy to follow!

In the case of a trip to Japan, and usually when you travel to the east, first you have a very short day, then a really long one and a brutally long one on the way back home. So, I needed to lengthen my days as pleasantly as possible, and my ultimate solution turned out to be the smart sleep alarm.

smart sleep alarm

3) My fitness level

As my absolute goal is to be ready if the chance of becoming an astronaut arrives, I constantly try to be in an excellent physical shape. I have 30 minutes of intensive exercise every day on average, that means playing football, running, working with a personal trainer at the gym doing functional training or using TRX at home.

Moreover, my extra motivation always comes from technologies and data. I do special exercises with VR goggles, and I use my most loyal companion, my Fitbit Ionic.

4) My meditation strategy

I have been applying meditation techniques for a long time to be able to fall asleep easier. Previously, I used the excellent Headspace application, the Muse headband or the PIP but there are many excellent apps or solutions on the market. But lately, I have been experimenting with meditation without any help from technology. It turned out to be beneficial and practical knowledge, as I had to apply my entire meditation tool-kit during my trip to Japan to be able to sleep on the plane at around 7 pm.

avoid jet lag

As you can see, jet lag doesn’t have a miraculous cure, and I cannot share its invisible recipe with you. However, I’m the living proof that measuring your health parameters on the long-run and getting to know your own body through data leads to great results. I have accumulated a vast amount of knowledge and methods to adapt to any time zone and circumstance in as little time as possible as seamlessly as possible. At the same time, I have to warn you that this knowledge is not transferable in a linear way as everyone is different. I can only show you my methods so you can figure out what fits you and your organism best. It’s the same for jet lag – as everyone experiences it differently, and one-size indeed doesn’t fit all. So, let’s experiment and let me know if you have any questions!

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