November 17, 2010

Jet Lag may cause stupidity

I fly about 110 to 120 times a year, as you can easily guess from my Dopplr page.

In my case, roughly half of these flights are longer than 4 hours, and involve a noticeable, but not huge, difference in time zones. In fact, since I live in Singapore, most long flights go “vertically” south to north or vice versa, and not “horizontally”. India is usually two and a half hours behind Singapore. Hong Kong is on the same Time Zone. Australia might be up to three hours of difference, and so on. But why I mention this?

It seems that Jet Lag may cause stupidity. Part of the article says that: Jet lag poses a serious health threat, said study coauthor Erin Gibson of the University of California, Berkeley. Studies have shown that people with work schedules that require them to frequently change their sleep patterns have higher rates of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

I’m a little worried. Flying around is easier than ever, and airports and planes are much more comfortable than they were ten or twenty years ago. I always fly economy class, and never business class, with only two notable exceptions in my entire career. I think that the level of discomfort that you can experience on a long flight, sitting in economy class, might increase the negative effects of jet lags, or an unpredictable food regime, and things like that.

What’s the solution? There are many, at least to mitigate the problem. I’m not a Doctor or an expert in medicine, but I think that the following makes a lot of sense: 1) Tune up your food regime: in my case, I decided to turn vegetarian, after reading some books on the matter, and especially liking Dan Ornish’s The Spectrum. 2) Try to exercise at least two, three times a week. 3) Avoid flight food as much as you can or, if allowed, take fruit or vegetables only. (the quality of airline food is usually poor, with a few exceptions such as Singapore Airlines). When you eat, eat slowly, enjoy every single bite. 4) Rest, long enough. Don’t pack your days with too many meetings and calls, otherwise you’ll end up being poorly effective, and seriously stressed. 5) Meditate, if you know how to do it, it’s great to reduce tension even if done for only 15 minutes a day. Easy to do during flight. Music can help concentrate. 6) Reserve some nice time for you: this means, try to do things that you like and make you happy. I enjoy great espresso coffee whenever I can, because I love it. I take photographs. I talk with strangers. I occasionally play Sudoku on my phone for a few minutes a day, or chess. I read interesting books. 7) If possible, avoid checking email on your mobile every five minutes, at least during meals. Your productivity isn’t affected that much, but your stress level goes down if you silence the phone for at least twenty minutes. This should be the rule even if you don’t travel. 8) If you can, fly business class on long flights. Your blood circulation, and sleep quality, will thank you.

Well, that basically what I can say. When I adhere to these rules, they work superbly. That’s what I suggest to people when they ask me how can I cope with the amount of travel I do.