Top hacks to keep jetlag at bay

Hitting the ground running is how most executives would prefer to arrive at overseas business destinations. But lack of sleep, excess alcohol, mile-high food and chronic stress can all contribute to the kind of fatigue that makes closing deals as laborious as flying another leg in a pressurised cabin.

Nicholas Downes, director of Peloton Capital, has travelled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, visiting projects in the oil and gas, technology, life sciences and resources sectors.

When you fly west, sleep as much as you can and, flying east, not too much.

Nicholas Downes

"Travelling east is always a killer," he says. "To some degree, it's just about sucking it up, although getting as much sunlight as possible once the plane has landed and going for a run do help."

He says the red-eye from Perth is his least favourite flight, although the city's Crown Metropol is one of his favourite hotels for business and relaxation.

"At times it's more painful than I can cope with," laughs Downes who admits that, increasingly, jetlag "is a real dampener".

"I did get some advice from an airline steward who told me that, when you fly west, sleep as much as you can and, flying east, not too much. If I am trying to stay awake I keep myself busy with work or movies. I love earplugs and I use a FESS nasal spray with tea tree oil (to reduce exposure to germs)."

In the zone

NASA estimates that you'll need one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to your normal rhythm and energy levels. Becoming tired and disoriented, difficulty getting to sleep, dehydration, increased susceptibility to viruses and an upset stomach can all be symptoms of flying fatigue.  

Crossing multiple time zones upsets your circadian rhythm – your natural sleep and wake cycle – as the body has to adjust to a new schedule more quickly than it can adapt.

Some people, however, seem to do better than others.

Rush to relax

Koos de Keijzer, founding partner and principal of dKO Architecture, flew 700,000 kilometres last year.

"I fly Sydney-Melbourne every week, Melbourne-Auckland/Christchurch every week, Singapore/Ho Chi Minh City/Hong Kong once or twice a month and US/Europe twice a year," he says.

"Travel is stressful so alleviating stress is important – getting to the airport early, travelling light, being organised. The Qantas spa treatments in the first-class lounge in Melbourne and Sydney are also great."

According to Qantas, more than 30,000 passengers a year, from business executives to celebrities, access spa treatments in the first- and business-class lounges. 

De Keijzer says that, once on board long-haul flights, he always sets his watch to the overseas time, changes into his pyjamas, asks for three blankets, eats very little and tries to get as much sleep as he can.

"I find reading a book relaxing – I don't take sleeping pills – and I generally stay off alcohol."

Take a dip

De Keijzer loves the Capitol Hotel in Tokyo, especially the spa area and swimming pool: "I find swimming a great relaxer.

"My other favourite is the Langham Place in Mongkok. The treatment areas are on the top floor, with fabulous views of Hong Kong harbour and a great swimming pool. I always exercise – walking/running/swimming after long haul flights – and I always take a bath."

The award-winning architect says "sleep is king" when it comes to coping with frequent flying and he doesn't have too much trouble getting it, if he follows his routine. "The best hotel beds and pillows are a tie between Sofitel and Rydges," he adds.

Look on the bright side

For those who struggle with productivity-sapping fatigue, the Re-Timer, $299, invented by Professor Leon Lack and his colleagues at Flinders University, emits a soft green light designed to reduce the sudden change in time zones.

Launched in November 2011, thousands of units have since been sold worldwide.

Professor Lack says: "If I fly west and have to delay my body clock, I wear the glasses for one hour before I go to bed. Eastwards, I wear the Re-Timer when I get up in the morning."

He also takes the sleep hormone melatonin shortly before he hits the sheets.

The melatonin effect

While the homeopathic remedy, No Jet-Lag, has long been available at international airports, it is melatonin that is increasingly popular with those battling jetlag. Even the Sleep Health Foundation agrees it may help reset your body clock, although it adds a doctor's prescription is needed in Australia.

One devotee is Mandy Grey, founder of True Solutions International, the leading anti-ageing, wellness and MediSpa supplier to the professional beauty aesthetics' market, who has been travelling for business for more than 30 years.

"At the moment I tend to travel around two weeks a month locally and three times a year internationally," she says. "Interstate is normally Melbourne, Queensland, Perth and Adelaide and internationally is Asia, US and Europe."

On arrival Grey takes 2mg of melatonin half an hour before sleep.

She also uses DECLEOR Circulagel to improve circulation in her legs during flights and takes advantage of body treatments including lymphatic drainage or aromatherapy massage on arrival.

"In Venice I love the spa at Hotel Cipriani and the Olympic-sized swimming pool which is perfect post flight."

Drink up

Water, either being submerged in it, or drinking it, is a recurring survival theme.

Qantas A380 customer service manager, Roslyn Colagrossi says every frequent flyer can vouch for how much better they feel when they stay hydrated, both inflight and when on the ground. With restrictions on carry-on liquids, the solution is to keep refilling the water bottle offered in-flight.

For the scientifically inclined, a free mobile app,, can help you synchronise the body's internal clock. Developed by Dr Daniel Forger, a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan and colleague Kirill Serkh, it calculates the optimal times for exposure to light and dark for more than 1000 possible trips through different time zones.

This article first appeared in The Australian Financial Review's Life & Leisure magazine.

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