Traveling is always a beautiful experience, especially when traveling to faraway destinations. However, if a flight lasts more than four hours, it starts to show some of its downsides. Jet lag is one of those common, and for some people inevitable negative aspect of traveling in airplane.
What causes jet lag?
Jet lag occurs when a person travels across four or more time zones. Time zones are the geographical regions, there are 24 of them and each one has the same time within it. Because the way the Earth rotates, the dawn breaks in a certain hour in one time zone but it arrives one hour later in the zone immediately to the west.
In United States, for example, when it is 6 am on the East Coast it is 3 am on the West Coast.
One part of the human brain is responsible for controlling the urge to go to sleep, as well as some other urges like thirst and hunger. That part is called hypothalamus. When it starts getting dark at the end of the day, the eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus, which triggers the sleepiness. The same thing, only the other way round, happens in the morning, when the hypothalamus is telling the body it is time to wake up.
Another important role is that of melatonin. It is a hormone which promotes sleep and it is triggered when it starts getting dark. In the morning, with light, its production decreases for the day.
When a person travels through different time zones, hypothalamus gets confused and does not send appropriate signals and the melatonin production is not adequate to the situation. For example, a person is leaving London at noon and flies to New York. He or she arrives to New York at 2 pm Eastern Standard Time. But the body is still on London time and feels like it is 7 o’clock in the evening. After a few hours, the traveler will start feeling sleepy and tired even though it is not yet time to go to bed.
Symptoms of jet lag
The most important symptom of jet lag is sleep disorder. For a couple of days the traveler will wake up very early in the morning and feel sleepy and tired early in the evening. The normal rhythm and internal clock sync is usually re-established after a few days. It is recommended to adapt to the new time zone by waking up in the morning and going to bed in the evening at the hours appropriate to the new time zone and to forget about what time the body still might be on.
It is also recommended not to take sleeping pills as they are known to disturb sleep patterns and routines.
Other symptoms may include stiffness, tiredness and irritability, as well as headache, anxiety, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. Extreme symptoms may include memory loss and body pain.