You're probably going to hate me for saying this, but I fly nearly 400,000 real air miles a year — and I don't get jet lag. There are those who would argue — convincingly — that jet lag is a recognized, bona fide medical malady, and I won't contest that.
However, consider me one of the lucky ones. I just don't get jet lag. I'm one of those travelers who can — literally — hit the ground running.
But for hundreds of thousands of other travelers, it's a different story. Jet travel, combined with basic sleep deprivation, has become a nightmare.
Now, a number of hotel chains are addressing the challenge of not only fighting jet lag, but truly providing a good night's sleep.
Some hotels have reported a huge increase in the number of sleepwalkers. Others receive complaints regularly from their road-warrior guests that their productivity is challenged after a trip — and a night at their hotel.
Crowne Plaza Hotels has partnered with sleep experts to try to control room light in hotels. In fact, some research has shown that even the light from a laptop or BlackBerry is concentrated enough to signal the brain to stop secreting melatonin. Some even say that checking e-mail before sleep can be the electronic equivalent of drinking a double espresso before turning in.
And Westin Hotels has gone a few steps further: The chain has partnered with Philips and a group of sleep doctors to create a “concept room” aimed at aiding sleep deprivation and cutting jet-lag recovery time in half. This hotel-room laboratory is currently being tested at the Westin Chicago River North, and is the first such partnership between Philips and a hotel company.
Recently, I visited the room. What's inside?
The concept room is equipped with Philips’ ActiViva lamps — revolutionary new blue-light lamps that provide high-quality lighting and directly affect the way people feel by supposedly making them feel more alert, awake and energized. In Philips field tests, participants indicated an increase in their own performance by 10 percent or more after using these lamps.
The lights, along with other cutting-edge amenities such as a guided-meditation TV program (it actually walks you through into a sleep experience) and a room-service menu filled with calming snacks such as a banana-milk smoothie, are being tested by Westin through a series of evaluations with travelers who have recently crossed two or more time zones. Window shades are custom blackout models. Other white-noise machines are also in the room. It's a combination of high-tech — and low-tech — jet-lag fighters. There are oscillating fans, calming tea, and then ... comes the shower.
Inside the shower you'll find a high-intensity light that its manufacturer claims will reset your body clock (and your circadian rhythms) by triggering the third receptor in the human eye. One button relaxes you. One is designed to rev you up. How does it work? According to the folks at Philips Lighting, in 2002, research revealed that a third receptor (besides cones and rods) exists in the human eye. This receptor is highly sensitive to blue light and sends a signal to our body clock, which controls our biological rhythms such as our sleep/wake cycle. Other lights in the room include motion-activated "stumble lights" that automatically turn on when you get out of bed.
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So how does the room work in real-world scenarios? We asked road-warrior Alex Nesterov, a business consultant who had just flown from Paris to Chicago, to check into the hotel. His report: He liked the lights. He thought the talking meditation machine was silly. He appreciated the stumble lights and didn't particularly care for the noise machine (complete with 50 different sounds, ranging from crickets to ocean waves).
His particular favorites: the oscillating fan and that ActiViva light in the shower. After just five and a half hours of sleep and a shower under that light, he claimed he was firing on all cylinders. According to Sue Brush, senior vice president of Westin, the men tend to love the oscillating fans and the women like the talking meditation machine "because they like someone to talk to them." Is it really as simple as that?
Maybe, maybe not. Nothing in the Westin concept room has been scientifically tested yet. But it's a start.
As for me, I stick by my own regimen when flying. I never eat airplane food. By definition, almost all of it has been reheated. People don't eat airline food because they're hungry, but because they're bored. I never drink alcohol on a plane — that, to me is the worst thing you can do. Instead, I consume lots of fruit and water. At least twice during the flight I get up and walk around the plane.
And then the key: Wherever I go, whenever I land, I force myself to stay up until at least 11 p.m. local time. If I make the mistake of succumbing to the temptation of that 2 p.m. afternoon nap on the day I arrive, no one — including me — will see me for three days! I do whatever I can — walk, swim, shoot hoops — anything, not to take that nap. And then, I miraculously cycle. And I repeat the same process on my return trip. I can't guarantee it will work for you, nor can I guarantee the Westin concept room will be a success. But, when it comes to avoiding — or managing — jet lag, it couldn't hurt.
Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s Travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com.
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