After a long flight, it is not unusual to feel “down an out” the next day. In some cases, you may pass up on that pub hangout with friends or delay the report of the business trip because work is a no-go that day. Scientists have described that feeling as jet lag.
What is jet lag?
At the risk of sounding too clinical, jet lag may also be referred to as desynchronosis or flight fatigue. It is mainly caused by flying across time zones. The main symptom is insomnia, due to the interruption of your circadian rhythm sleep (body clock).
The human body is an amazing machine, but it is also subject to habit. When we live in a specific time zone for a while, our body establishes a sleep pattern and records it.
During that period every day, the hypothalamus attempts to shut down arousal to initiate a sleep response. In any different time-zone, the body’s circadian rhythm changes, and the hippocampus, amygdala which are responsible for learning and memory establishes the new sleep patterns.
When people travel by air, they cross different time-zones at a high speed, the body and the brain are unable to adjust in the short-period. Imagine landing in Sydney, Australia by mid-day, when it is still bedtime back home in London. The body will be ‘confused’. It also works vice-versa, where your body could be fully awake when it is time to sleep. This desynchronosis is what we refer to as “Jet-lag.”
Symptoms and signs of jet-lag
The symptoms of Jet-lag vary with individuals because our body chemistry is different, But the most common signs are fatigue and insomnia. In more extreme cases, the following signs may be observed:
Children and babies may also feel jet-lag as adults do. While the symptoms don’t need a medical evaluation, it is advisable to see a physician if they persist after a few days.
How long does jet lag last?
The number of time-zones you cross in a trip will determine the recovery speed. Naturally, the body will adjust to a new time zone at the rate of 1 - 2 time-zones per day. For instance, if you crossed six time zones, it would take about 3 – 5 days for the body to adjust to the time change.
Tips for overcoming jetlag
If you want to stay up and running from the moment you land, you can minimise the effect of jetlag.
According to sleep expert, Jamie Zeitzer, light is important. If you are traveling east to west try getting some exposure to evening light. If it is the other way around, west to east, you will want get enough exposure to morning light.
Sleep apps like Entrain are also effective for adjusting to various time zones. However, Jaime says the best piece of advice for overcoming jet lag is to get enough sleep during your flight. That way you feel refreshed and ready to move when you touch down.