Sleep doctor offers jet lag secrets
By Julie Clothier for CNN
British Airways sleep doctor Chris Idzikowski says two-thirds of people do not deal with jet lag effectively.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A sleep doctor working for one of the world's biggest airlines has come up with a way of helping business people identify the worst time to schedule important meetings when they are traveling across time zones.
A survey by Chris Idzikowski, who works for British Airways, found more than two-thirds -- or 67 percent -- of people did not know how to manage jet lag. Just 11 percent tackled jet lag the right way by getting the correct mixture of light exposure, food, fluid and exercise
The data, which was collected from information provided by 1,002 business travelers, found that inappropriate mechanisms used to cope with jet lag ranged from ignoring it to drinking alcohol through it.
Idzikowski told CNN that air travel did not allow for the biological clock to adjust to the new time zone and the resulting effect was jet lag.
When this happens, passengers hits a period of maximum sleepiness -- and subsequently their poorest performance -- when it is least expected and often most needed in the new time zone, he said.
"If you travel on business from London to Hong Kong, which is eight hours ahead of the UK, you will hit your maximum sleepiness between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Hong Kong time," he said.
Planning a business meeting at this time is the equivalent of planning a meeting between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. at home, the time when people are at their sleepiest.
"Travelers should avoid business meetings at this time. Or, if someone wants to take advantage of some who has traveled to their time zone, they should schedule a meeting with them at this time."
To help passengers identify the crucial timeframe, Idzikowski has created an online calculator on BA's Web site. It takes the time the person normally wakes up in their habitual time zone, takes into consideration the time difference in the new destination and identifies when the passenger will have the least amount of mental alertness.
"This is when you will be either sleepy or fatigued or when your mental performance isn't up to scratch," he said.
Idzikowski's research found that 55 percent of people have trouble traveling eastwards, compared to 25 percent traveling westwards.
This is due to the fact that the biological clock normally runs slowly and flying in a westward direction has the same effect as extending the day beyond 24 hours, he said.
The most common approach to coping with jet lag is changing your watch to the destination time when boarding a plane, but Idzikowski said this offers little value unless you adjust the rest of your routine to the same time.
Idzikowski said there were key steps travelers could take to avoid jet lag.
"Because sleep is good at countering the effects of jet lag, getting extra sleep before a big trip helps. You can't store a lot of extra sleep so it won't carry through for three or four days, but for 24 hours, getting extra sleep helps," he said.
"If you are lucky enough to arrive at your hotel before a big meeting and have time, take a nap for half an hour. Even if you don't feel like you have slept a lot, data out there suggests having some shut eye will help you perform better two or three hours later."
He said for short trips where there was a big time difference, it was better to focus on maximizing performance on the passenger's return.
"If you are going on a two- or three-day trip where there is a big time zone change, there's no point in trying to adjust to the new time zone," he said.
"Try to get at least three or four hours' sleep at the habitual time zone. One can survive on three to four hours for a few days -- not long term. But you can top up with a nap to keep one's mental performance going."
Idzikowski said several people in his research said they believed jet lag was in the mind. He said there was scientific evidence to suggest this was false.
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