The science behind jet lag

Lloyds PharmacyHave you ever wondered what causes jet lag or why it can be worse on some flights than others?

Jet lag is the feeling of extreme fatigue and disorientation that occurs when we travel between one or more different time zones. It's a condition that somehow manages to make us feel sleepy, yet keeps us awake at the same time.

What causes jet lag?

Jet lag is caused by a change to our body’s biological 'clock,' which is controlled by circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm refers to the 24 hour cycle that regulates the biological clock of all living beings and plants. 

Cells in the brain signal to the rest of our body whether it’s night or day based on the light cues and social interactions around us. From these cues, we’ve learned to associate certain actions with a particular time i.e. most of us eat when it’s light and sleep when it’s dark. 

Jet lag, however, is caused by our brain failing to adjust to a new time zone, which throws our circadian rhythm off schedule, meaning you might feel hungry at 3am, or sleepy at dawn.

Flying east causes worse jet lag

Jet lag Recent studies suggest that jet lag hits people hardest when flying west to east (as in, going from New York City to London or Dublin, rather than the other way around).

This is due to losing more hours in the day and our bodies finding it harder to adapt. In addition to the direction in which you travel, crossing a number of different time zones can also trigger jet lag. Crossing 7-12 time zones can result in more jet lag compared to a shorter flight of 3-6 time zones.

How to curb jet lag

The easiest way to overcome jet lag is to acclimatise to your new location and time zone. This means eating and sleeping at an appropriate time for where you are, rather than back home. 

Try not to nap, but rather try and get a good full sleep when night time falls in your new location. Spending time outdoors in daylight hours will also help your body adjust to the new time zone.

For additional support, visit LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor for a jet lag consultation.

*BMI Healthcare is not responsible for external content and does not endorse, recommend or guarantee external products or services.

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