Sally is pulling her hair.
The kitchen tap is leaking, Max is sick and Sarah has a performance at school this morning.
As usual, Harry is travelling for work. Since they came to this new country, he’s been away half of the time. He wasn’t even around when she moved in with the kids!
No one to rely on, to give a hand, to help out. Not even to vent the frustration.
So Sally will manage. She’ll get over her fears – pick up the phone and call a plumber (she’s not even sure he’ll understand her and she’ll understand him); rush to the chemist and buy some painkillers to help Max get by; and finally attend Sarah’s school performance. At least part of it.
Since he left home on Saturday evening, he had a 10-hour flight and a 3-hour drive under his belt.
Arriving jet lagged at the hotel, he treated himself to some snacks.
He had a few drinks at the bar while catching up with colleagues, all gathered for the quarterly sales meeting.
His real work will start at 7 am the next morning. The whole week is packed with uninterrupted presentations. Harry will be stuck in an air conditioned conference room in the basement of another 4-star hotel without even seeing the sunlight and being able to breathe some fresh air…
Staying focused all day in those conditions isn’t easy. Especially because Harry struggles to rest properly.
That evening after the chat at the bar, it took some time before he finally managed to collapse and sleep.
His nights are short. His body wakes up every morning at 4 am.
Needless to say that he comes home exhausted. Don’t rely on him to pick up the slack. He’s in such a mood!
“No wonder!” says Dr Sarah Kohl, travel medicine specialist.
Have you ever wished to know what’s in the head of your frequently traveling partner?
Bear with me. You won’t regret it.
Sarah is telling us all about it and her insights are astonishing. She asserts:
Jet lag is the SINGLE biggest problem for the frequent traveller.
It basically puts your internal clock completely out of sync with the external world.
The most obvious consequence is disturbed sleeping patterns, but in reality it goes much deeper than that.
Chronic jet lag alters the brain in ways that cause memory and learning problems long after you return to a regular schedule.
This is the conclusion of a study carried out by Lance Kriegsfeld and his colleagues from UC Berkeley.
In their experiment, the researchers subjected hamsters – chosen for their remarkably accurate body clock – to a 6-hour jet lag twice a week for four weeks. This procedure mimics a weekly round trip New-York – Paris.
The hamsters’ performance was measured the last 2 weeks of the experiment and one month later.
As expected, the animals struggled with learning and memory tasks when they were jetlagged. But the researchers were astonished to observe that these deficits persisted even after one month!
They went on to examine the brain structure.
Their findings are striking: the hamster’s hippocampus – a specific region in the brain – displayed only half of the number of new neurons compared to the control group and this still one month after jet lag exposure!
These results confirm previous studies on flight attendants whose brain scans already suggested a decrease in size of the hippocampus responsible for making more nerve connections. When the connections are reduced, your analytical skills and your memory are affected.
Worse, you don’t even notice it. It’s like the guy who’s had a few drinks and says he’s perfectly fine to drive.
Adding to sleep deprivation is often bad sleep quality. Sleeping on a plane with the inevitable background noise or in a different bed each night doesn’t help you get good rest.
Without 7 to 8.5 uninterrupted hours of sleep, you never get to the deep 3 and 4 stages of sleep, the ones that regulate your hormones.
That, in turn, interrupts hunger signals and gives you a propension to overeat. For women, it disturbs the menstrual cycle.
Lack of sleep quantity and quality affects your mood too. You feel irritable, angry, depressed, anxious. Hence the moody sloth you inherit from the regular business trips.
Do you want to keep peace in the household? So in your best interest and his (or hers), you may want to share these few tips with your frequent traveller.
What can your traveling partner do to mitigate the effects of jet lag?
- Build a healthy sleep schedule when not traveling
This means going to bed at regular hours and getting 7 to 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Don’t only count on the night before to catch up. It won’t work. It’s not enough.
- Take a 20-minute walk outside at sunrise and sunset
The sunlight on the eyes cues the internal master clock and helps to reset to the new time zone. This is not true of mid-day sun! You also may consider occasionally using melatonin around your new bedtime. This hormone, naturally secreted by your body, induces a sleeping mode. Taking a dose when travelling helps your body adjust. Be mindful however of the nature of this product. It’s not to be taken lightly and on a regular basis.
- Avoid screen time (phone, tablet, computer) 30 minutes before sleep
Screens emit blue light that suppresses melatonin. It has a direct influence on sleep quality.
- Avoid alcohol
It interferes with your ability to get into deep sleep. Note: In high altitudes – on the plane – the effects of alcohol are magnified!
- If possible, take a small nap – no more than 20 minutes – in the middle of the day
- Avoid caffeine for its very well-known stimulating effects
- Don’t make big decisions when jet lagged.
As demonstrated previously, your analytical skills are impaired without you even being mindful of it!
Bonus: The very serious journal of science Nature, picking up another study on hamsters, published an article in 2007 asserting that “Viagra cures hamster jetlag“. The effects on humans have not been proved yet.
Anyone interested in becoming a guinea pig?