Business Travel: A Good Flight's Sleep

By Anna Kuchment

Christopher Lotz, an attorney from San Antonio, Texas, has his travel routine down to a science. Three days before a transatlantic flight, he begins going to bed and waking up earlier, nudging his body clock toward European time. Then, on the day of his flight, he eats his last meal at 2 p.m. (dinnertime in Europe) and heads to the airport for a late-evening departure. Once onboard the plane, he pops a dose of the prescription sleeping pill Ambien, dons eyeshades and earplugs and settles into his cramped coach seat. "Before you know it I'm asleep, and I wake up when they're doing the morning meal service," he says. Coming off the plane, he feels refreshed and ready to tackle client meetings--without needing a nap first.

Jet lag has been the bane of business travelers since the birth of international flight. But while aviation technology has advanced well beyond Charles Lindbergh's monoplane, a cure for "circadian-rhythm stress" has remained as elusive as a fix for the common cold. Frequent fliers have tried everything from fad diets to homeopathic pills to portable "light therapy" lamps. A traveler's best bet, experts say, is to follow Lotz's approach: get plenty of rest during your flight and sync your sleep schedule with that of your destination a few days ahead of time.

To conk out on a noisy jet, more and more travelers are experimenting with prescriptions. Dr. James Walsh, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, D.C., recommends two medications to help fliers sleep: the prescription drugs Ambien (sold as Stilnoct in Europe) and Sonata. (People at risk of developing deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, should not take sleeping pills on planes. Consult your doctor before taking any drugs.) "You want a medication that stays in your body four to six hours," he says. Anything longer lasting--antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills and over-the-counter sleep aids--can make you woozy. (Sonata promotes sleep for about four hours, Ambien for about six.) To sleep more soundly, Walsh also recommends taking the pills for the first two nights of a trip. "If you can eliminate sleep deprivation," he says, "that's half of it."

But nonprescription melatonin is still the No. 1 remedy for jet lag. The hormone is secreted by the brain at night to signal the time for sleep. A poll of 5,000 travelers conducted last summer by the group Leading Hotels of the World found that 21 percent of those who used any jet-lag remedy relied on melatonin, compared with 10 percent for Ambien and 10 percent for over-the-counter sleep aids.

There's little scientific evidence that melatonin works as a sleep aid. Researchers, however, have found it to be effective in advancing people's internal clocks before an eastward flight. Charmane Eastman, a circadian-rhythms scientist at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, recently published a study in which she used melatonin and exposure to artificial light in the morning to switch volunteers to an earlier sleep schedule over the course of three days. Melatonin, administered at a low dosage--0.5mg--five hours before bedtime, says Eastman, helped her volunteers fall asleep earlier, which would allow them to adapt more easily to a new time zone.

Travelers who don't like popping pills can always follow Israel Baron's approach to flying--if they can afford it: the Los Angeles-based film producer, who flies twice a month to London on Virgin Atlantic, always flies first class, sleeps on a flat bed and never misses an in-flight massage. "The main thing is to feel comfortable," he says. For most travelers, that's easier said than done. Pass the Ambien.

Meetings: Seats Of Power

Forget long wooden tables, swivel chairs and stodgy portraits on the wall. TIP SHEET found conference rooms that can spice up even the dullest business meeting:

Taipei 101: The meeting room on the top floor of Taiwan's tallest skyscraper offers a 360-degree view of the city below--and the mountains beyond. What better way to seal the deal?

The New Armouries at the Tower of London: It has seen kings, dissidents and beheadings. Now the Tower of London rents out its armory for banquets and board meetings.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel: This cruise-ship-cum-hotel in London's Royal Docks features two large conference rooms plus a VIP room with showers and a bar.

Jungle Othon Palace: After you meet in this floating hotel on the Amazon in Brazil, you can hike the jungle--then collapse in a hammock.

Technology: Online Butlers

Internet-based travel companies are ratcheting up the competition by offering new services. "Everybody's nailed the air-car-hotel piece," says Dean Sivley, chief product and marketing officer at Cendant Corporate Travel Solutions. "Now you need to do more to get people to the online booking." When booking through a Cendant subsidiary, corporate travel managers can now order travel medical insurance, private security services and overnight delivery of cell phones. And when Cendant--which owns Travelocity, Orbitz and Travelport--learns of canceled or delayed flights, its software will automatically shift travelers to new flights and then send the information to their cell phones or PDAs.

Competitor Expedia Corporate Travel is offering similar in-house services. Expedia has created a VIP desk for big-volume travelers who want a voice at the other end of the line. Agents find hotels with wireless high-speed Internet connections and line up goodies like theater tickets. Expedia also now has a division to plan conventions.

More bells and whistles are coming: Cendant says it will let corporate clients assign a value to the time they spend getting from one place to another. For example, the software wouldn't even bother showing a "save $50 with a three-hour layover" option to a $300-an-hour executive. If only that fancy system could just take those tedious trips for you.

Luggage: The Bag Is In The Mail

The luggage-shipping business seems to be growing right along with those airport security lines. Luggage Express (866shipbags.com) shipped 3 million suitcases in 2004--about six times the volume it had in the previous year. Luggage Express, along with Virtual Bellhop (virtual bellhop.com) and Sky Cap International (skycapinternational.com), have built a following among individuals happy to pay $70 to $150 per bag to avoid airport agita. The companies will pick luggage up at travelers' homes or offices and deliver it within a day or two to many international destinations.

About half of Luggage Express's clients are business travelers, some of whom buy into the company's LE Club; for $995 a year, they get 20 shipments. Vacationers constitute a higher percentage at Bellhop and Skycap International. Clients of all three companies find discounts through various affiliations and joint-marketing deals. All the companies claim stellar delivery records, but smart travelers don't just avoid airport lines. They carry on a change of clothes and that must-have presentation, just in case.

--Linda Stern

Health: Stuff To Stress Less

It's a sad fact, but business trips are stressful. Fortunately, there are a bevy of products to help soothe those fraying nerves.

Take a break from tension-inducing meetings and massage your brow with some Chakra Balancing Balms ($13) or get a whiff from a Scented Inhaler ($20; learningmeditation.com) to restore your inner corporate calm. For in-conference relief, try the Massaging Pen (20 pounds; gadgets.co.uk). Just press the vibrating tip against your temples.

When the day is done, head back to your hotel room to light an Aveda tea-light aromatherapy candle ($5; aveda.com), turn on the gentle rain from the Tranquil Moments sound-therapy system ($99; brookstone.com) and slip into a pair of battery-powered massage slippers ($20; homedics.com). Need more? Try the InnerPulse mind machine ($200; photosonix.com), which offers 64 light-and-sound combos to help you relax, sleep or meditate. If none of that works, you might consider retirement.