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Better Sleep Tips for Business Trips

Road warriors need sound sleep to be at their peak.
By
WebMD Feature

Business travel and sleep do mix; they have to, or you will be far less productive than you may think. Business travel demands high performance amid stress, hectic schedules, heavy meals, and late nights -- all a recipe for poor sleep.

If more of us realized the importance of sleep to performance, not to mention health, we would get a lot more done and feel a whole lot better doing it. Losing as little as one and a half hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about one-third. Excessive daytime sleepiness impairs memory and the ability to think and process information. Sleep deprivation also leads to mood alterations, attention deficits, slower reaction times, and increased risk for accidents. And sleep deprivation is cumulative, building a sleep debt that must be paid.

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Alertness Solutions, headed by Mark Rosekind, PhD, a former director of NASA's Fatigue Countermeasures Program, conducted a study of travelers on trips crossing more than two time zones and lasting two to four days. It revealed some interesting findings and confirmed others:

  • A few hours of lost sleep combined with business travel significantly reduces performance.
  • Business travelers perceived themselves as performing at a much higher level than they actually did (a 20% drop).
  • Travelers actually performed best during mid-day, not early morning, which many consider to be prime time for productivity.
  • Of those who rated their performance highly, half fell asleep unintentionally on the trip.
  • Study participants slept, on average, only five hours the night before a trip, the lowest of the entire seven-day monitoring period. But they reported getting an hour more sleep than they actually did. "Any sleep period less than six hours a night begins to significantly diminish performance," Rosekind says. "Essentially, travelers are at a decreased productivity level before they even walk out their door."
  • Those who exercised during their trip performed an amazing 61% better than non-exercisers.
  • Study participants registered a total sleep loss of almost eight hours by the time they returned home, the equivalent of one full night's sleep.

Traveling Over Time Zones

Flying across time zones changes the principal time cue -- light -- for setting and re-setting our 24-hour, natural day-night cycle, or circadian rhythm. Our internal clock becomes out of sync or mismatched with our current day-night cycle. Our circadian rhythm greatly influences when we sleep, and the quantity and the quality of our sleep. It may also be altered by the timing of various factors, including naps, bedtime, and exercise.

In general, "losing" time is more difficult to adjust to than "gaining" time. Traveling east we lose time; west we gain. An "earlier" bedtime may cause difficulty falling asleep and increased wakefulness during the early part of the night. Going west, we fall asleep easily but may have a difficult time waking.

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