How do people who travel a lot deal with time zones?

I was reading about Obama coming to Norway to accept the Nobel prize. During the middle of the day he will have some downtime to do president stuff, as people in the US will wake up at that time.

I assume he travelled straight from the US the day before, so he must be awfully tired that day, having to wake up so early, meet lots of people etc. when he should be sleeping.

So how do people who travel so much just for a day or two, and then have to do official stuff all the time, manage?

(Legal) Drugs?

I dimly remember something (probably from fiction) where a world leader was told never to make important decisions the first day after travelling. And it’s good advice.

Although I don’t tend to travel across the world for just a few days I do have to change between timezones (eight hours difference or so) a handful of times a year. And be productive on my first day there.

It’s not that hard, you just have to work out where you need to fit in the extra sleep so your body is in the right timezone when you’re there. Or accept that you’ll have to be up for 36hrs or so – some people do that all the time. I imagine it’s easier for the President to get a good few hours sleep on a plane than it is for me in Economy.

After that the light and the adrenalin of the situation probably helps him. I find it’s fine if you have something to do, if you’re just sitting listening to someone then it takes an effort to stay awake.

So basically, he sleeps whenever he can and powers through the rest of the time.

Someone doing it all the time probably gets used to it, although I’d caffeine is involved somewhere.


I’ve seen light therapy devices marketed towards frequent travelers.

You fight two problems. One is just tiredness due to travel. Being able to actually sleep on a plane can make a huge difference. The other is time shifting you body clock (circadian rhythm). There is not a great deal that can be done about the latter. Light therapy can help a little, and some people swear by Melatonin. But time shifting can really wipe you out.

If you are travelling on very short trips it is possible to avoid body clock problems by staying on home time as much as possible. If you are a national leader you may have enough support that this is possible without too much effort. It isn’t a great deal worse than going to an all night party. But most people find it hard for other reasons. Hotels are not great for this. They are noisy places in the day, and although you might hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door, and close the curtains, getting a proper night’s sleep in another country’s day is not easy. You end up doing business at 3am your time anyway, and it isn’t fun. You can do it for maybe a day or two. Longer than that and it is better to time shift, and you pay the price of a day of seriously sub-par capability. Sometimes more - depending upon which direction you travelled. Direction is important. Travel West is much easier. I can get over flying to the UK from Oz in a day (one night’s good sleep after arrival) but find travel back East takes up to four days to be fully over.

I travel a lot. Here’s what I do: never drink alcohol on the plane, don’t eat too much food on the plane, but drink lots of liquids. When you get to your final destination take a good hot shower and change into fresh clothes. Eat your meals on local time (dinner at dinner time). Your first night, stay up as late as you can, but at least until ten. If you wake up three hours later, try to stay in bed with the lights out, resist the urge to get up watch TV, eat a meal at an odd hour, or write emails. Usually, by the second night of this routine, I’m pretty much on schedule.

Each person who travels a lot has their own routine to deal with jetlag- On “long-haul” flights, mine involves a couple of stiff drinks on the plane, sleeping for the flight, then staying awake at your destination until your bedtime in local time, then sleeping until morning. By the next morning (local time) I’m usually right as rain and ready to go, although it can take another day or to to fully adjust when heading Eastwards (ie towards Los Angeles or London).

Other people like to do relaxation exercises or meditation, some people take herbal supplements, and other people take a few days to get back into things.

The short answer is that it varies from person to person, IME.

I used to travel from the US East Coast to Asia several times a year, and followed this plan, plus setting my watch to the destination time when the first plane closed its door, and trying to get on that schedule en route. Still, Day 2 or 3 after flying back home was pretty rough.

Largely seconded on these observations (although I personally need to be more rigorous).

I spend a lot of time travelling between time zones, Europe, Asia, Africa on 3-6 hour differences back to back.

First, of course, if your firm is covering business class sleeping on the plane is actually fairly refreshing. If in cattle class - sadly more frequent now, it still is worth something, although horrible on the legs and back. Rather swear by neck pillows for semi-proper sleep.

Second, as Madmonk says, discipline on the first day to force a reset; make sure one goes to bed late evening, no TV (very bad idea really).

Of course if the first day is downtime, I tend to break the discipline on the plane and go for the Martini route.

I reset my watch as soon as I get on the plane, too. It actually requires a bit of discipline to get on a new time and when I don’t follow my procedures, it takes me a week or more to get on the right time.

I tried a lot of things for years. Sunlight, exercise, powering thru and caffiene are all part of the solution.

that said - ambien is your friend. :wink:

seriously, ambien guarantees me 6 hours of sleep. I power thru the waves of jet lag and my body is not exhausted.

Exactly. There are so many factors involved: how regular your normal routine is at home, your ‘normal’ sleep patterns and sleep dependency, how much travelling and how often across how many time zones, whether you find acohol helps or hinders the problem and so on. The best advice I can give is: beware those who give advice as if ‘one solution fits all’. Anyone who faces this problem on a regular basis will develop their own ways of coping, and to a large extent your own body tells you what it needs and how to cope.

I’ve always been very lucky in this regard. When I first started travelling in the 1990s, I could be hit quite hard by jetlag. These days I fly a lot more often to many different places, and I literally don’t even notice jet lag. I seem to be able to just switch to whatever the local time of day is. It probably helps that I don’t have much of a fixed routine even when I’m at home. I get up when I want, early or late, work when I want and feel like it (again, can be early or late) and just go with the flow of however I’m feeling at the time.

The only tip I can give you, that might help some people, is to have the right attitude of mind about it. Stop thinking about home, stop working out what time it is at home, stop mentally translating your experience relative to what’s going on back home (‘Oh, just think, they’ll only just be getting out of bed back home’). Just accept that you are where you are, look at the sky whenever you can (give your body chance to work out how to adjust its internal cycle) and accept the local time as the REAL time and the NORMAL time.

The thing I haven’t noticed mentioned is ear plugs. Planes are very noisy. Foam earplugs eliminate that noise and allow for sleep.

I don’t know if they still do it (or if it works), but during the Soviet Union days Aeroflot crews always, when possible, kept Moscow time, wherever they were on Earth.

Hmm quite right as well. People who keep thinking of Home Time do seem generally to get jet lag worse. Doubtless slows adjustment.

A friend of a friend is a private pilot and he keeps his watch set to UTC (aka, Greenwich Mean Time).

A bigwig probably couldn’t follow my plan, but it worked pretty well for me.

I used to travel from the US Midwest to Asia. My 13+hour flights would depart from Detroit or Chicago in early afternoon, so the night before I would not sleep at all, and take a taxi to the airport. As soon as I was on the plane I would change my watch to destination time, eat a meal if they served it right after takeoff, put in earplugs, put on my eyeshade and go to sleep. I was so exhausted by that time I would get in 6-8 hours rest, even though I’m 6’5" and don’t fit airline seats very well.

By the time I would reach my destination and get to a hotel, it was late evening local time and I could go to bed. This prepped me pretty well, and adrenaline and caffeine took care of the rest.

I tried to do the same coming home, but it took a day or two to adjust because I wasn’t usually as busy so the adrenaline rush wasn’t there.

The secret is to make fists with your toes.