An inquiry into the cognitive and physiological consequences of extreme business travel.
This is a report on a scientific study conducted over the course of 72 hours during the middle portion of the week just past. Or maybe it was 96 hours. The purpose was to determine what effect, if any, the radical perturbation of sleep schedule, irregular consumption of meals, and forced imbibing of alcoholic beverages at inappropriate hours would have on an otherwise healthy businessperson.
Outcome is as yet inconclusive, although there is evidence that subject’s brain function has not returned to normal several days after the close of the experiment. Moron that later.
But to continue: The subject is a male of indeterminate but high middle age, somewhat under six feet in height, could stand to lose a few pounds but still presents well in a suit. Subject is by no means a stranger to a more moderate iteration of the conditions imposed in this study, having, as he describes it, “been yanked around like a celebrity Chihuahua from one corner of the corporation to the other for years.” Subject is accustomed to working all day, then flying for six hours on the redeye, landing in New York in the early morning, and being expected to function snappily at 8 a.m. meeting. He recently received a communication from American Airlines congratulating him for having consumed a small beef pellet in wine sauce every 10 to 21 days since 1997. In short, the subject was more than prepared for an experiment of this nature, one that might have killed an individual with a less robust wheelbase. I mean skill set. Hm.
At any rate, here were the terms of the exercise: The subject puts in a full day at the office in Los Angeles, then, at 5 p.m. PT, he and his boss drive to a private airport, board a Gulfstream 4 (precisely like the one that blew up on takeoff in Connecticut not long ago), and embark for Brussels, where an important international conference is taking place. Subject has cocktails on the airplane, then one (1) Ambien; then he and boss repair to separate spaces and sleep about 6.5 hours each, wake upon landing, and go to the hotel. Time in Amsterdam: 1 p.m.; time in L.A.: 3 in the morning. After checking in and changing shirt, subject and his boss meet a colleague. They go to lunch at an hour that would normally be considered four hours before breakfast. Then return to hotel for drinks, which come in waves at what is, after all, breakfast time in L.A. Lots of wine. Martinis. Dinner is served. After dinner, subject, boss, and colleague go to lounge off campus and drink for a while, then back to hotel and drink for a while longer. Belgian beer is good. Then up to bed at 2 a.m. for four hours of sleep. Subject awakens at 6 a.m. local time. Breakfast? Dinner? Whatever. A curtain of black has descended before his eyes. He and his boss take a walk and eat a croissant. Now it’s time for lunch. How is that possible? Freddy’s on the square. Very nice. Possible he has some kind of fish. Several strange things amuse his bouche. Now it’s showtime! Mercedes caravan to an enormous complex outside the city where the boss gives a speech, which goes very well and there are people from Liechtenstein. It’s 5 p.m.! Time to get back on the G4 and fly at 45,000 feet for nearly 12 hours, returning to Los Angeles essentially at the same time on the clock that they left. Go home. Take shower. Subject not sure if it’s time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Goes to sleep instead. Wakes at 4 a.m. WTF? Some statistics:
• Time elapsed: 72-96 hours
• Hours of sleep: 9.5
• Meals: 5.5 (including croissant)
• Drinks: 27.4
• Meal confusion and drowsiness: 8 on a scale of 10.
Conclusion: Subject appears to be functioning, but actually isn’t. Right now he has to fly to New York. He claims to be looking forward to the beef pellet.
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This story is from the June 30, 2014 issue of Fortune.