Avoiding Jet Lag
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Avoiding Jet Lag

May 2012

The signs and symptoms of jet lag are familiar: Fatigue. Disorientation. Grogginess. Insomnia. Mild depression. Even occasional bouts of temporary insanity. So, too, are the causes. Jet lag (technically, desynchronosis) occurs when the body's circadian rhythms get disrupted from rapid, long-distance transmeridian (meaning east to west or west to east) travel. In other words, when you have jet lag, your natural rhythms for eating, sleeping, and regulating body temperature and hormones are thrown off kilter because they're not in sync with where you are.

And that can really mess you up.

Jet lag generally eases at a rate of one day per time zone crossed. That's fine if you're traveling to Madrid or Mumbai on a two-week vacation and can take it easy when you get there. But when you need to hit the ground running - or at least thinking - it's not so easy.

The remedy? We talked to two California lawyers who travel a lot (really, a lot) to learn their tips and tricks for managing jet lag.

Rich Gray
Vice President and Group General Counsel, Spirent Communications
With a travel schedule that includes five to seven trips to Europe and Asia each year - plus that many domestic business trips - Gray has a well-honed routine for coping with jet lag. "As soon as I land, I take a two- to three-hour walk outside," he says. "Getting some fresh air, sunlight, and a chance to get my blood pumping are crucial."

Of course, London and Hong Kong are interesting places to walk, but other cities can be less pleasant. In Beijing, for instance, pollution levels are so high that "even walking a few blocks," is hard, he says. But in those cases, he doesn't switch to working out indoors on a treadmill (although he does so regularly at home in Palo Alto) - because he doesn't want to pack workout clothes.

"The only thing that's more important to me than being rested is never checking baggage if I can possibly help it," he says. To ensure he travels light, he wears a pair of Mephisto shoes that do double duty for business and walking.

Gray also drinks "tons" of water (up to two quarts per flight). And he tries to live by the time zone of his destination "from the minute I get on the plane. So if I arrive at 9 a.m., I try to just power through until 10 or 11 at night" - although he'll take a 90-minute nap if he's really tired. And if it comes down to it, he's not above drinking a couple of Diet Cokes.

"Basically, my way of dealing with jet lag is to ignore it," he says. "Time becomes irrelevant. I just need to get the rhythm of my body in sync with the rhythm of my destination."

Gray finds domestic trips - where he crosses just three time zones - harder to deal with than traveling 8 hours to London or even 16 to Hong Kong. "I've just never figured out a solution," he says. "So I try to stay as close to California time as possible."

Yet even with the best laid plans, jet-lagged brains can go awry. That's why Gray packs his luggage in "modules": He has one kit of international plug adapters and another that contains cords for his smartphone, iPod, and laptop. "If I'm in a hotel room overseas, all I have to remember is to pack the kit," he says. "It helps a lot."

And having lost "everything you can lose at least once," he now allots extra time to pack for the return trip home. "I use the bed as a staging area," he says. "I just assume I'm exhausted and have to be careful not to lose or forget things. It took me years to figure this out, but I finally got it."

Pamela Davis
Partner, White-Collar Criminal Defense Division, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
For the past five years, Davis has been flying from San Francisco to Asia frequently - anywhere from six to ten times a year. That's helped her rack up quite a few airline miles (160,000 last year, before bonus ones, she says). It's also forced to her to come up with a carefully developed jet-lag prevention regimen.

"One of my primary strategies is to take a flight that allows me to land in the morning, instead of at night," she says. "Then I can just go to my hotel, shower, and head off to work." To accomplish this, she always tries to sleep on the plane - even if it means taking a sleeping pill to help. And like Rich Gray, Davis starts behaving as if she's already in the time zone of her destination the moment she boards the aircraft.

Davis likes this schedule because it gets her on her destination's clock faster. But she admits that by noon on the first day she's "starving" and by 2 p.m. she's starting to crash. Eschewing any naps, she relies instead on caffeine. Davis also exercises religiously while on the road because it "helps me get tired enough to sleep," she says. "I always book a room in a hotel with a gym that's open 24 hours a day."

Because she flies overseas so often, she says, flying to the East Coast "doesn't even phase me. I don't feel the jet lag." Still, no matter what time zone she finds herself in, the hardest task seems to be scheduling things. "It's just hard to remember what time zone I'm in and who's on what schedule," she says.

Susan E. Davis is a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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