I’ve always found that flying overseas, particularly east-bound can truly wreck havoc on your system’s clock and it can take days to recover. As I look at the importance of remaining healthy, fit, and alert both to perform my work as I arrive in Europe as well as keep a good training schedule, making the trip and adapting to both the flight and the time difference is paramount. I’ve flown to and from Europe more times than I care to remember over the years, but never as an athletic-conscious individual. Of course I’m still trying to sort out the lessons but perhaps some of my initial notes and activities may help in determining the optimal combination.
Traveling for work is very different than traveling for leisure. As my company just sent me to Paris for a few days to work on a client opportunity, I left Washington DC Wednesday at 5:20PM and landed Thursday in Paris at 6:30AM to arrive at the office by 9AM. The challenge with this schedule is that it is often hard to fall asleep at 5PM yet by the time we land we have a full day’s worth of meetings and activities. For leisure travel, other flights are available that leave at 10PM and arrive in France at 11AM. These flights are much better to sleep as it matches your body’s internal clock. No such luck for me this time.
- No Caffeine: Even to those who claim to be “immune” to caffeine, it is an excitant and even for someone like me who is an avid coffee drinker, avoiding any caffeinated beverages will help you sleep much better
- No Alcohol: This is one that isn’t necessarily intuitive as I’ve learned over the years. There was a time when I indulged in a few drinks either right before or during a flight to get me to fall asleep easier. While this is true and the inebriation will help you close your eyes, your sleep will be far less restful. It is a tradeoff of course and each person will have different experiences but my own tell me to stay away from the drinks.
- Water: Planes are very dehydrating. One of the first things I do after passing security at an airport is to go buy a large bottle of water. It flushes the system, keeps it hydrated and whether you’re flying or not is always a good thing
- Eat: The one thing I recommend to do is to eat. I usually try to eat either before I board or on the plane. The digestive process tends to make me tired and helps me sleep better.
- Eyes and Ears: I’ve collected several eye masks and ear plugs in my travels and have found them very useful.
- Blanket: If I wear a blanket on the plane, I ensure that my seat belt is over the blanket. This prevents flight attendants from waking me up when the seat-belt sign comes on (And it invariably does during any given flight).
- Melatonin: I’ve used Melatonin on short overseas flights. Melatonin is the body’s natural hormone that is produced to help you sleep and can be obtained without a prescription. By taking some an hour before the flight it helps tell the body that it’s time to sleep. Others use Ambient (Prescription) or Tylenol PM. Though I’ve never tried them I have certainly heard and read that it is best to get a full eight hours of sleep with sleeping aids. Since the flights from the East-Coast to Europe are 6-7 hours, it’s far from enough time for a full sleeping aid and may result in making you groggy. A small dose of Melatonin (3mg) seemed to help me and suffice.
- Vitamins: No big surprises there but I always recommend taking lots of vitamins when you travel. It helps boost your immune system and keep you healthy. It’s a no brainer.
This combination has certainly helped me get a couple of hours of sleep on overseas flights. Even 2-3 hours can go a long way to help manage the day when you land and last until later afternoon/early evening when you can eclipse yourself to catch some sleep in your hotel. Traveling is hard for anyone. Whether as a businessman with busy schedules, an athlete with training commitments or as a parent with young children as I’ve done in the past, flights for multiple hours will place a strain on your body. While I continue to learn new things or adaptation mechanisms on every flight, the lessons above have served me well. I’m sure I’ll add some more over time.