How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep When a Work Trip Disrupts Your Schedule

Changes in the environment, a busy work schedule, extra stress and jet lag often come hand in hand with a business trip—and they can all affect your ability to sleep well.

The effects are particularly hard on frequent travelers. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, people who travel for business two weeks or more per month report a variety of health problems, including trouble sleeping.

A bad night’s rest can affect our work performance during the day. Daytime sleepiness impairs our memory and the ability to process information. A lack of sleep can also alter our mood, decrease our reaction time and increase the risk of accidents.

In this third part of our series on wellness and business travel, we will provide you with science-supported sleep tips to help improve the quality and duration of your sleep.

How to Overcome Jet Lag

Jet lag is the physiological condition associated with the feelings of disorientation, lightheadedness, impatience, lack of energy and general discomfort that come from traveling across multiple time zones.

Jet lag is caused by a disruption to our body’s natural clock, the circadian rhythm.  Imbalanced circadian rhythms affect both the quality and quantity of our sleep. A study led by Dr. Lance Kriegsfeld at the University of California, Berkeley confirmed that acute disruption of circadian rhythms causes memory and learning problems as well as potential long-term changes in our brain structure.

Jet lag is no friend of business travelers. The good news is that you can influence your circadian rhythm with changes to your environment, behavior and diet.

Do This Before Flying

The direction of your flight is key. When you travel east, you “lose” time, which is more challenging to adjust to than going west and gaining time. And while there is no time difference flying north to south and vice versa, you may still experience fatigue.

A literature review published in the Journal of Sports Sciences advises going to bed earlier in the days leading up to a flight headed eastward, and going to bed later in the days leading up to a flight headed westward. You might find it difficult to get to sleep at an earlier time, but keep reading and we’ll address some adjustments you can make to your routine to help make it easier.

Do This During Your Flight

You can take steps to start adjusting to your arrival time zone while on the plane, especially if you’re on a long-haul flight. Here are a few tips from an article in the European Journal of Sport Science:

  • Sleep if flying eastward: Try to get some sleep; since you’ll be losing hours, you might not have enough time to rest the next day. Use window shades, dark glasses and/or an eye mask to minimize light exposure. A C-shaped pillow, earplugs and soothing music can also help.  
  • Don’t snooze if flying westward: You gain time, so try to stay awake a bit longer. Stay active during the daytime hours of your destination and avoid long naps.
  • Relax: Dress for comfort, stay hydrated and avoid drinking too much coffee or alcohol.
  • Skip some meals: Travelers tend to treat eating as an activity to pass the time during a long flight. Unfortunately, meals are a cue to your body clock. As with the rules around sleeping/not sleeping, note the current time at your place of destination—if it’s meal time there, eat! Otherwise, try and hold back or keep to light snacking if need be.

Do This When You Arrive

Daylight is the essential cue to your body clock, so expose yourself to as much of it as possible when you arrive. Arranging a social activity or outdoor exercises that align with the local time can support the readjustment of your body clock and the restoration of normal circadian rhythms.

Also, try to get as much sleep as would be normal according to local time. The World Health Organization advises sleeping for a minimum block of four hours during the local night. This is known as “anchor sleep.”

Such rest will allow your body’s internal clock to adapt to the new time zone. If you can’t sleep any longer, take naps during the day to make up the difference. Exercise may help to promote a good night’s sleep, but don’t do anything too strenuous in the two hours right before bedtime.

How to Reset Your Sleep Schedule

Below are a few things you can do to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Take a Warm Bath

A study published in Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology found evidence that temperature changes caused by taking a bath before bed can increase sleepiness and improve the quality of sleep. If you have the time, run a warm bath before going to bed.

Turn Off the Light and Other Electronic Devices

A study published in BMC Neuroscience found evidence that both blue and red light can induce alertness at night. This affects your circadian rhythms, which may exacerbate the effects of jet lag. So, draw the curtains, turn off the lights and put your phone away.

Meditate

According to a literature review published in the Frontiers in Neurology journal, meditation can alter several components of mechanisms that generate sleep. Meditation, the authors writes, influences brain functions and “helps to establish a body and mind harmony.”

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, says mindfulness meditation evokes a relaxation response from our bodies. This response is a deep physiological shift in the opposite direction of our body’s stress response, which often causes sleep disorders.

He recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes. “The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation,” he says. “That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep.”

Listen to Music

Music-assisted relaxation is another way to improve sleep quality, according to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

That study builds on a large body of research that has found music calms the mind by “counteracting psychological presleep arousal”—this is a clinical way of describing all of the To-Do List tasks and sources of stress that pass through your mind when you’re trying to sleep. Music lets your mind focus on something other than those stressful thoughts, creating the conditions for a more restful sleep.

As music is often a matter of personal taste, you can experiment to work out what's best for you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Pick music that is 60–80 beats per minute.
  • Give the music time to work (at least 45 minutes).
  • Listen to instrumental music because lyrics can be distracting.
  • Try out music that integrates sounds such as rain, birds or wind chimes.

Adjust the Room Temperature

Adjust the temperature in your room to an optimal level for you. In general, a cooler room is better for sleep. According to H. Craig Heller, Ph.D., professor of biology at Stanford University, your set point for body temperature—i.e., the temperature your brain is trying to achieve—goes down when you go to sleep. ”If you are in a cooler [rather than too warm] room, it is easier for that to happen,” he says.

Avoid Prolonged Naps

Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Stephen Amira advises against long naps. A 20-minute nap, or shorter, during the day can help revive you, but anything longer is going to take you into “deep levels of sleep, that would reduce [the] drive to sleep later on.”

Get Out of Bed Instead of Tossing and Turning

According to Devon Grant, Ph.D., an experimental psychologist at Washington State University Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center, if it’s a struggle to get to sleep, travelers shouldn’t just toss and turn in bed. “Get out of bed and do another calm activity until you feel tired,” she says.  

Supplement Your Sleep to Quickly Conquer Jet Lag

Traveling for business can be rewarding yet challenging. In addition to eating healthy and finding time for exercise, try supplementing your diet with the right nutrients to make sleep come easier. VitaYears™ Sleep Support Supplement is formulated with the nutrients GABA and apocynum venetum—studies show these nutrients work in combination to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The Sleep Support Supplement also includes melatonin, which has been shown to normalize circadian rhythm. Together, these nutrients are perfect for helping you move beyond jet lag so you can focus on the business at hand.