Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The "4 AM" Syndrome

After almost two decades of  transoceanic travel, I have experienced many changes in the "long haul" flying experience - on the upside: flatbed seats and better entertainment. On the downside: post 9/11 security and declining service on most airlines including the once unbelievable service on Singapore Airlines.

For me, one aspect of travel that has not changed over the years is the "4AM" syndrome. Whatever my "home" time zone may be (China, Japan or the US) - when I leave home to cross the Pacific the first few days after my arrival have one constant - I wake up at 4AM. If I go to bed at 10 PM, I wake at 4, if I go to bed at 1am, I wake up at 4. The problem with waking up at 4 is that I am ready to go back to sleep about the time I am supposed to go to dinner with customers. Many of my friends from Japan use some kind of pharmaceutical solution. I don't prefer that option because I don't like the sluggish feeling it brings. In the interest of full disclosure, I do carry NyQuil cold medicine gel -caps for the occasional desperate situation when I need to drop off to sleep quickly but I probably only use that option one night in one-hundred.

When I first started traveling, mild sleep deprivation made me miserable by day three of a trip. I would toss and turn waiting until 6am to get up and start the day with a run. The fact my customers usually wanted to stay out until midnight or later made my days very long and made long meetings seem much longer. I had trouble speaking English let along trying to understand the Japanese or Chinese.

Over time I learned not to fight jet lag but to embrace it, I stayed on a schedule of getting up at 4 and doing email or reading until my 6am run. I learned to manage my schedule so I have at least 60 minutes between the last meeting and dinner. A 60 minute gap allows me to get back to the hotel and have  a 20- 30 minute power nap before the "evening shift". It doesn't sound like much but 30 minutes of sleep gives me enough energy to feel normal through the evening.

Last week when I was sending emails back to North Carolina at 4AM Taipei time, I got a return email asking why "after all the years oft travel why hadn't I learn to manage jet lag".  I didn't bother to reply but the answer is I learned how to manage jet lag by not trying to fight it.