Airplane Nap
Shutterstock

Counting Sheep

An alumnus and sleep expert shares her recipe for conquering jet lag.

When jet-lagged corporate clients approach Nancy Rothstein, ’79, a Chicago-based sleep expert known as The Sleep Ambassador, she’s quick to point out that to feel better on the road, they should skip that extra cup of coffee and find a place to nap.

“One of the primary preparations for any meeting is sleep,” said Rothstein, a sleep wellness consultant for Fortune 500 companies. “It’s a foundation to functioning.”

As more business travelers are expected to dive into deal-making conversations right off a flight, jet lag can be even more of a nuisance. And while it’s impossible to feel completely refreshed after a night (or day) of flying, there are ways to ease the discomfort of adjusting to a new time zone—a situation familiar to alumni featured in this issue’s “The Jet Set.”

For one, Rothstein said, getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night during the week before and week after a trip is key to helping beat jetlag, which can be easier to weather if the body is less tired. “You have to be at the top of your game for that first day,” she said.

What you do during a flight can also help prepare for a time change, she advised. Avoid alcohol or a large dinner while in flight, since these factors can contribute to poor sleep quality. Use the time zone you’re flying to as a guide to gauge whether to sleep on the plane. For example, an early evening flight from New York to London is the perfect time to get some shut-eye. To enhance sleep quality while in flight, use earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, and eye masks to create a quieter and darker atmosphere.

Upon arrival, go easy on your body rather than jumping into a jam-packed day of meetings, Rothstein recommends. Prioritize a 15 to 30-minute power nap upon arrival, but avoid sleeping for longer than 30 minutes, which can leave you groggier. The nap can help you transition to the local time zone and increase alertness prior to handling important business, Rothstein added. Sticking to a steady sleep and wake time throughout the trip can help further ease exhaustion.

Once at the hotel, aim for a cool, quiet, and dark sleep environment. Some travelers even bring along a small LED device, which uses light to regulate circadian rhythms and helps travelers transition between time zones. When on the road, it’s important to prioritize the quality of sleep versus quantity, which is often difficult to control. “Do everything you can to enhance the quality, and have some ways to clear your mind and settle into sleep,” Rothstein said. That means waiting to answer emails until the morning, and putting away computers and smartphone screens at least an hour before sleeping. Oftentimes, she added, travelers who get better quality sleep may actually need to sleep shorter periods.

More importantly, admit when you need a break. Many business travelers refuse to acknowledge when they need more time to recoup the energy lost during a night of travel, Rothstein said. “If you are about to get on the treadmill and you can barely keep your eyes open, I’d opt for the nap.”

—By Alina Dizik