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Sleep Week

How Successful Entrepreneurs Conquer Jet Lag

You can only switch time zones so much before wearing yourself down. Here's how the most successful people manage jet-setting lives.

[Photo: Flickr user Mike Fernwood]

Successful entrepreneurs are often practiced travelers: experts at going from a seat cocoon of eye masks and sweatpants, to polished face of their company at the gate. The rest of us are the sea level to their 50,000 feet of professionalism.

To an extent, that’s all true. They're better at this than most—out of practice and necessity. But it doesn’t come naturally—going from an afternoon meeting in New York to a morning presentation in Doha flies in the face of our body's natural rhythms of rest.

As an entrepreneur, fashion brand founder, and mother of two young children, Ivanka Trump says she’s made peace with her hectic life. She travels domestically on a weekly basis, and internationally every six to eight weeks. "I have always viewed travel as an opportunity to see the world and experience new cultures, languages, and people," she says. "Opportunities come with sacrifices, and often, sleep is one of them!"

Amit Kleinberger, CEO of Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, travels at least once a month. With franchisees around the world, including in Asia, the Middle East, and Canada, he's always thinking on a variety of time zones, even when he’s grounded. On top of business as usual, he had the unique experience of filming a reality TV show in 2013, Undercover Boss, for which he’d land in a new location on an opposite coast, with little rest in between, and be ready for the camera. "I was out of my comfort zone on two levels—first was having to be ‘on’ when I arrived, and to be ‘undercover,’" he says.

How Do They Do It?

Trump forgoes the usual bedtime-adjusting advice to stay rested, and opts instead for all-natural melatonin drops for in-flight sleeping. "When I land, I sync up to my new time zone immediately—which means no long naps or unusually early bedtimes."

"I often go straight from an overnight flight to a press conference, groundbreaking ceremony, or keynote speech," Trump says. "It is always a bit rough, but I try to power through and stay caffeinated."

Kleinberger says he’s given up on the idea of a restful commute, and assumes that sleep will evade him for the duration. He compensates by staying well-rested in the days before the trip, drinks lots of water, and avoids caffeine and alcohol.

How You Can Cope

While these two are powering through their schedules, jet lag be damned, a few adjustments to your schedule can prepare you for your next time-travel foray. Luc Schlangen, lead scientist at Philips Research, has advice for using light to ease the lag:

Be aware of blue light. You can adjust your sleep schedule in the days before a trip—and tools like Jet Lag Rooster can help—but who has time to go to bed four hours early or wake up late before a big trip? Timing is important, but awareness of the color of light you’re taking in is crucial, Schlangen says. Blue light—like what’s coming out of your electronic screens—will shift or disrupt your body clock more effectively than yellow or red light.

When flying west: "Depending on the number of time zones you plan to cross, you can decide to start delaying your body clock one or two days prior to your departure," says Schlangen. "Delaying the clock is best done by seeking blue-rich light in the later part of your evening to keep you awake and staying up a bit later."

When flying east: To turn your clock forward, seek blue light in the morning by waking up a bit earlier than usual, or using a sunlight-mimicking lamp. "Combine that with minimizing blue-rich light exposure in the later part of your evening by wearing sunglasses or going to sleep earlier."

Take breaks. It’s a necessary part of being a bicoastal or international entrepreneur, but constantly confusing your body isn’t healthy long-term. "Living against one’s body clock or remaining awake when the body clock signals us to sleep, and being asleep when the body clock signals us to be awake, impairs our functioning and learning," Schlangen says.

Use it to learn. Don’t just suffer through it; learn from it. While filming Undercover Boss, Kleinberger was pushing his limits—but discovering a lot about himself. "It was great to test myself and my limits, learning to improvise, adapt, and eventually overcome to accomplish my purpose," he says. "I take this lesson and experience with me in every situation now."

Trump takes the inconveniences in stride: "I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be in a career that allows me to explore the world and, oftentimes, share the adventures with my family."

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