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Staying Sharp When Crossing Time Zones
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By Robert Moskowitz

It sounds sensible to suggest altering bedtimes for three or four days before jetting away on business. But few executives can afford to disrupt their heavy schedules just because they're leaving town tomorrow or later this week. In fact, one often has to go with even less sleep and sharply busier schedules for several days before a trip in the effort to clear one's desk and get ready to do business abroad.

That's why many physicians' and behavioral scientists' new understanding of the jet lag phenomenon--sometimes called Chronobiology--is beginning to pay dividends. It's now possible to plan long trips, or plan activities during long trips, so as to minimize any debilitating impact. In fact, it's even possible to obtain highly specific instructions on how to remain alert and mentally sharp before, during, and after a trip across multiple time zones.

While scientific studies on jet-lag control are few and far between, there is plenty of anecdotal and testimonial evidence that many people experience mental fuzziness and lack of energy which can last as long as a week after a long-distance flight. The problem is not due simply to fatigue--although sleep deprivation is a contributing factor. It results mainly from disruption of the body's rhythms.

Now there is a growing body of convincing evidence to show that this so-called "jet lag" can be eliminated or overcome in less than one day. The secret: adhering to a precise combination of diet control, light exercise, sleep timing and even social interactions. It also helps to drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids to combat the body's normal dehydration in the dry atmosphere of airliners.

As you probably recognize, your body's mental and physical capabilities cycle through highs and lows every day under the control of hormones and brain chemicals that respond only slowly to changes in the external environment. Normally, you're most alert during the daylight hours and ready for sleep at a habitual time each night. But when you travel across several time zones, your sleeping/waking cycles almost always fall out of synchronization with local business hours.

The problem is compounded by inadvertently napping, eating, exercising, or spending time outdoors at inappropriate times in the body's cycle. Giving the body the wrong cue as it's adjusting from one time zone to another can flip a six-hour time shift in the normal 24-hour cycle into an 18-hour time shift that takes many days to clear up.


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Robert Moskowitz is a consultant.
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