How To Deal With Jet Lag At Work
The Debrief: Give yourself a break guys, long haul travel sucks. Here's how to cope with jet lag at work
Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi
Jet lag is not my friend. While some super-humans sashay into the office like they’re totally fine the morning after a long-haul flight, you’ll find me dragging myself along the floor, weeping tears of caffeine and grasping Pret’s entire pastry range.
It took me two awful weeks of syrupy coffee and an impossibly slow work rate to get over a recent trip to New York. There’s nothing worse than being tired and grumpy in an office, especially when you – and everyone around you – knows you’re slacking. So, I thought I’d ask some experts how to deal with jet lag at work like an actual grown up.
Realise it’s normal to feel like crap
Did you know your body has two clocks? The first is a ‘light and dark clock’, that tells you when to go to sleep. The second is a ‘food clock’ that lets you know when it’s the right time to eat. You get jet lag when these clocks are out of sync with the time zone you’re in, and it takes a while for them to get back in gear.
In fact, sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley says it takes a day-and-a-half to get over every hour of time difference. He says: ‘Your performance is going to be affected for longer than you think. There’s no point being brave about it.’
Be strict with yourself
Dr Neil says the best way to get back into the swing of things after a holiday is to ‘only sleep when it’s dark and eat at the correct times for your time zone (even if it’s just a little snack).’
If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night then avoid technology and don’t get frustrated. He says: ‘Accept what’s happening and why and just get on with it.’
Don’t take an extra day off work
Unless you’ve got Beyoncé levels of willpower, don’t go taking a sick day when you feel exhausted on your first day back at work. ‘If all you’re going to do is lie in bed sleeping, it’s actually going to make things worse,’ says Dr Neil. ‘The best way of getting back into sync is actually getting back into the routine of doing work.’
If you’re feeling really awful after a night flight, a two-hour nap before 12pm can help – but no more and no later.
Focus on simple tasks
Jet lag can affect your problem-solving ability, judgement and concentration, so avoid doing important tasks or making career-changing decisions in the first few days post-holiday. It’s a great excuse to finish off the mindless data admin you’ve been putting off forever.
And if you do make an error, don’t panic about it. Sleep specialist Chris Idzikowski says: ‘We all make small mistakes all the time. If you think you’re being affected by jet lag then you’ll probably start noticing these slips and it will add anxiety and distraction to an already difficult day.’
Swap coffee for naps
If you really need to get shit done on your first week back, don’t start downing the coffee. Dr Neil says: ‘Caffeine is pointless. Its effect is going to run out within 30 minutes.’
Instead, he suggests hiding in a toilet cubicle for five-minute naps or, if you’re really tired, settling down on your work sofa for a 20-minute snooze. (Set an alarm though!)
Get organised before you go away
As much as it’s tempting to start on the piña coladas at 12pm on your last day of work: beware of leaving a trail of unfinished work as you prance out the door. You don’t want any nasty surprises to deal with when you’re groggy.
Career coach Denise Taylor says: ‘Make sure you’re up to date on your work, have checked deadlines and nothing needs to be completed on the first day back.’
Notice that your temper’s pretty short post-holiday? That’s because jet lag can leave you stressed, lacking a sense of humour and lacking empathy. What a homecoming treat, eh?!
Avoid that super-irritating workmate who always drones on about his kids. And, if you find yourself in an aggro situation, Denise suggests taking a ‘mini-relaxation break’ to keep yourself focused.
She says: ‘Breathe in for four counts, hold for eight and breathe out for 16. It gets more oxygen to the brain.’
Don’t be a jet lag bore
Moaning about your jet lag is a sure-fire way to announce to the office that your work rate is slower than usual, and could sound like you’re humble-bragging about your holiday. Remind yourself that two weeks lazing on the beach in Thailand is totally worth battling a few days of mega-headache for.
‘Most of your colleagues will know you’ve been away,’ says Denise. ‘You’ve been excited before you left and they’ve seen your photos on Facebook. But, you should be effective at work so don’t draw attention to your jet lag.’
And if all else fails… bring holiday sweets
It’ll literally sweeten the deal with your colleagues. Yes, I admit this isn’t a tip from the pros, but trust me: your workmates are going to be much more sympathetic about you spending your first day back on Facebook after you’ve made it rain Pretzel M&Ms.
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Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi
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