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What is a Jet Lag?

Malena Piper


Seeing new places and experiencing different cultures is a trend that has gained popularity since the invention of the car in 1885. You could get from one end of a state to another state in a day. It was a miraculous change from the pace of a horse and buggy. More comfortable too.

In 1903, the invention of the airplane took traveling”s popularity to an all-time sky high. It’s easier and faster than ever to get practically anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the wonders of travel can come with a negative side effect: jet lag.

Anyone who has traveled a long distance in a short time span has probably experienced some of the symptoms of this disorder.

For people who travel for business, this disorder is a regular concern. Maybe you have devised a way to jump that hurdle and maybe you haven’t. Either way, we are here to help you learn about this temporary sleeping disorder and how to deal with it. So first, what is jet lag?

What Is Jet Lag?

Jet lag goes by many terms like desynchronosis, jet syndrome, and circadian dysrhythmia. It is a time zone change syndrome. It occurs when traveling quickly between two different time zones. Funnily enough, this is a physiological condition that can cause a person to feel drowsy, tired, confused, or irritable, due to a disruption with our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is also called the biological clock.

We’ll get into how jet syndrome works later in this article. First, let us explain what could happen when you have the disorder.

The Symptoms

This physiological condition is tightly connected to our bodies, because of this we experience physical symptoms of desynchronosis.

  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration

Remember: if ever concerned about the symptoms you are experiencing, or if they are lasting longer than expected, please consult a medical professional.

What Causes Jet Lag?

Back when it wasn’t possible to travel over long distances in a short time span, circadian dysrhythmia wasn’t very common. Finding yourself in a different time zone can be exhausting. Finding yourself skipping several different time zones can throw you out of sync with the entire world.

The reason is simple: your biological clock has lagged behind in your previous time zone.

Now, what do we mean by your biological clock?

Your biological clock is essentially your circadian rhythm, which is the physiological and lifestyle processes of a living being. In other words, it is the 24-hour sleep and wake cycle your body and mind go through each day. But that isn’t all the biological clocks control. They control how alert we are during waking hours. Our hunger and the rate of our metabolism, how fertile we are, even our moods are affected. This is the reason why clock dysfunction is linked to many different types of disorders.

Jet syndrome is unique for the time span that it affects the person. As we’ve said before, circadian dysrhythmia is a temporary disorder. Most circadian rhythm dysfunctions last much longer. We’ll explain why but first let us explain more about your biological clock.

Biological clocks are the driving force behind your circadian rhythm. We have several different biological clocks throughout our body. Our genes have instructions that help us make proteins. The number of proteins created rise and fall based on a learned schedule constructed on the light and dark patterns of the sun. Genes and the proteins run in a continuous loop, thus resembling a clock.

All other these clocks are synced together by the master clock. This master clock is located in our brains and called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN).

The master clock is linked to the photoreceptors in our eyes. Photoreceptors are extremely sensitive to the light. They gather information about the light and dark patterns and sends it to the SCN. The SCN translates light and dark signals taken from photoreceptors and tells the pineal gland to secrete melatonin when it is time to sleep.

So, when you find yourself in a different time zone, the master clock notices the changes in the sun’s light and dark patterns and starts to make adjustments to match the patterns of the sky. This adjustment is a gradual one.

For example, when flying from Texas to England you will lose 6 hours. So, when you get up the day after your flight, the clock may say 8 a.m. but your body still thinks it’s 2 a.m. Obviously, you will be tired if you’re body thinks it’s getting up that early. Your biological clock will get back on schedule eventually, but it’ll take a few days to do it.

If you want to read a more in-depth article about how the sun interacts with our biological clocks, please read our article Can Light Therapy Help You Sleep?

The Complications and Concerns

Everyone reacts to jet syndrome differently. There is no true way to determine how badly you’ll react to the symptoms of Jet syndrome before you make your trip. Because there is no true way to know there are many different concerns about Jet syndrome, especially with it being so common.

So, we have taken it upon ourselves to scour the internet and found the most common concerns about jet lag and put them into one place for your convenience.

Here we go.

How Long Does It Take To Recover?

From what we gather, the major concern is ‘how long does it take to recover from jet syndrome?’ A simple equation to follow is for every one to two times zones the body will adjust in one day. In our previous example, involving a flight between Texas and England, we determined that there would be a 6 hour time difference. If you were to make this flight, you would travel through at least 6 different time zones.
So according to our formula 1-2 zones = 1-day recovery. So, this will cause a 3 to 6-day recovery for a trip from Texas to England.

It is suggested that if you have jet syndrome to not travel until all symptoms have dissipated. If you travel before you have allowed your body to adjust, this could cause your circadian rhythm to take even longer to adjust. It could also cause the symptoms to become even worse.

Is There A Way To Prevent It?

There really is no true way around circadian dysrhythmia. It all depends on your body’s ability to adjust to the different time zones. Younger people tend to adjust to different time zones quicker than those who are older. No matter where you come from or where you travel you’ll most likely experience some form of jet syndrome.

Does The Direction Matter?

jet lag and sleep

Depending on the direction, your flight or car ride may affect you very little or a great deal. If you’re staying in the same time zone or flying north or south, you probably won’t experience much disruption in your circadian rhythm. The only difficulties that may be experienced are adjustments to climate and diet.

However, traveling east to west will bring jet syndrome in some form or another.

Traveling east is the most problematic because you are losing time. This causes your biological clock to be thrown out of rhythm. Your meals, sleep habits, and other normally regulated bodily functions are all pushed back.

Those who travel west have a much easier time adjusting to their new time zone since their day has simply been extended. This makes the traveler tired but if they manage to stay up to at least 10 p.m. their body will adjust quicker than normal.

Do I Face Any Risks?

There are risks that you face when traveling, especially when you have health concerns. Jet syndrome can add to the stress of travel.

For those that are older, going on oversea’s vacations or flying to see your children and grandchildren, the stress of travel and conditions of traveling can be stressful. Dealing with the symptoms of jet syndrome can only add to that stress. Traveling with pre-existing health disorders can aggravate symptoms further is you get desynchronosis.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or sleeping disorder you might want to get the advice of your physician before traveling. The physician will be able to determine if it is too dangerous for you to make the trip. People who should consult with their physician before traveling, especially by plane, are those with heart disease, diabetes, or lung defects.

Flying eastward can also cause a greater strain on your body.

Flight conditions can cause unnecessary stress. The lack of legroom can decrease blood flow and cause blood clots. To prevent this, move your feet from side to side, bend your legs and stand up every once in a while. It never hurts to walk around for a time.

What Are Your Options

Stay In Shape

Believe it or not, but being in shape, physically fit and healthy, will help diminish the symptoms of circadian dysrhythmia. If you are healthy, you have a conditioned body and reservoir of stamina. These qualities will help you cope with the symptoms and adjust to the time zone better than if you are unhealthy.

If you are unhealthy, try to become as healthy as possible before your trip. Exercise and eat healthy foods in healthy proportions before the date of your planned trip. If you do this several weeks beforehand, you may find you have an easier time adjusting.

After you get off your flight or out of your car, remembering to stay in shape is just as important as before your flight. Being healthy is crucial to your everyday life, sleep health, and happiness. However, it is important to recognize when your body is tired. Exercising too close to bedtime will keep you awake. You see when you exercise you are raising your core body temperature and increases your heart rate. It also prompts your bodily systems to dump adrenaline into your bloodstream. All of which keeps you awake.

Change Schedule Beforehand

Adapting to your targeted local time zone before you travel could reduce the strain jet syndrome places on you. If your trip there lasts more than a couple of days, easing your body into the anticipated schedule will help your body avoid a shock.

If you’re traveling north or south this may not be needed. Likewise, if you are eastbound, getting up earlier than you normally do and then going to sleep earlier will help you not have as hard a time adjusting the time zone. Westbound, you would go to bed later and wake up later. Simple as that.

We do suggest that you do this week by week and only an hour at a time. For instance, If you’re going one time zone over eastward, go to bed an hour earlier for a week before your trip.

Early Evening Arrival

jet lag
There are many businessmen that plan to arrive at their destinations in the early evenings. Arriving in the evening gives them enough time to settle down after their journey and make the appropriate accommodations to prepare for the next day. This helps them stay up until 10 p.m. local time. It reset their circadian rhythms much faster and help them not be as tired the following day.

Another thing businessmen do is arrive a day early. This will help greatly if you are traveling over two or more time zones. The extra time will help your body adjust to the new time zones. This step will be extremely important to those who have important business to attend to during their trip.

Avoid Caffeine

Avoiding caffeine can be critical to your recovery from jet lag. Although Caffeine can help you stay awake and focused, it can also keep you awake. The symptoms of jet syndrome will prevent you from being able to get a good night’s rest. If you add caffeine to the mix it may be that you won’t be able to sleep altogether.

As a general rule, avoid caffeine after lunch.

Even though you stop noticing the effects of caffeine after 3 to 4 hours, that fact is that the substance is still floating around your bloodstream for some time after that. It can last up to 6 hours. And it’s heavily suggested that you should have no caffeine in your bloodstream 2 hours before bed. This is because the caffeine is still affecting your system. Altogether the cycle of caffeine in the bloodstream lasts up to 8 hours.

Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy is a fantastic tool when combating jet lag. To try this to combat jet syndrome you’ll need a light therapy device and your physician’s approval. The light that comes from the light therapy device cues the photoreceptor in your eyes and sends the information to your master biological clock. What this does is it improves the rate of time that your body takes to recover.

Natural Remedies

Here at SavvySleeper, we are big fans of natural remedies to help you sleep better.

Chamomile Tea

Even though Chamomile Tea hasn’t been thoroughly tested in clinical trials, it does have a reputation for many different health uses. Falling asleep is one of them. In a study at Okayama University, Chamomile extract was used on sleep-disturbed rats. Their findings were that chamomile tea functions like a prescription drug that reduces anxiety and induces sleep.

Valerian Root

This root comes from Asia and Europe. This herb is commonly used as a sleep-promoting self-rated quality of sleep. It is highly advised that this herbal remedy be taken only for a short period of time. Consult with a doctor if you take this herbal remedy for over a week. Also, make sure you consult with a physician if you are pregnant or a lactating mother.

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