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
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.
It's 3 a.m. and you're staring at the green glow of your digital clock,
wondering if you'll get any shut-eye before the alarm blasts in a few short
hours. After several sleepless nights, you're feeling cranky and lethargic. Is
it safe to start taking a sleep medication?
Many people turn to sleep aids because insomnia and sleep shortage have
become commonplace in this country, leading to potentially serious
consequences. In a 2008 National Sleep Foundation poll, 29% of respondents --
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
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
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.