What is Jet lag?
Jet lag, also called "jet lag disorder," is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone speeding through multiple time zones.
The body has its own internal clock or circadian rhythms, that tells it when to stay awake and when to sleep. Jet lag occurs because your body's clock is still in sync with your original time zone, rather than the time zone you travelled to. The more time zones you have crossed, the more likely you are to experience jet lag.
Jet lag can lead to daytime fatigue, malaise, trouble staying alert, and gastrointestinal problems. Jet lag is temporary, but it can significantly reduce the comfort of your vacation or business trip. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent or minimize jet lag.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of jet lag can vary. You may experience just one symptom or many. Some of the symptoms of jet lag are as follows:
- Sleep disturbance, such as insomnia, early waking, or excessive sleepiness
- Fatigue during the day
- Difficulty concentrating or performing at the usual level
- Stomach problems, constipation, or diarrhea
- A general feeling of being unwell
- Humour changes
Symptoms get worse the further you travel
Symptoms of jet lag generally occur within a day or two of your trip if you've crossed at least two time zones. Symptoms are likely to get worse or last longer the more time zones you have crossed, especially if you travel eastbound. It usually takes about a day to recover for each time zone crossed.
What are the causes?
Alteration of circadian rhythms
Jet lag can occur whenever you cross two or more time zones. It appears because, when crossing several time zones, the internal clock or the circadian rhythms that regulate the sleep-wake cycle become desynchronized with respect to the time of the new location.
For example, if you leave New York on a flight at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday and you arrive in Paris at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, your internal clock still thinks it's 1:00 a.m. m. That means you're ready to go to sleep while the Parisians are waking up.
And since it takes a few days for the body to adapt, the sleep-wake cycle, along with most other bodily functions, such as hunger and bowel habits, remains out of step with the rest of Paris.
Influence of sunlight
Sunlight is a key influence on your internal clock. That's because light makes it difficult to regulate melatonin, a hormone that helps synchronize cells throughout the body.
Certain cells in the tissue at the back of the eye (retina) transmit light signals to a region of the brain called the 'hypothalamus'.
At night, when the light signal is low, the hypothalamus stimulates the pineal gland, a small organ located in the brain, to release melatonin. During the daylight hours, the opposite occurs and the pineal gland produces very little melatonin.
You may be able to make it easier to adjust to your new time zone by exposing yourself to daylight in the new time zone, as long as the light timing is done correctly.
Air cabin pressure and atmosphere
Some research shows that changes in cabin pressure and high altitudes associated with air travel can contribute to some jet lag symptoms, regardless of travel across time zones.
Also, in airplanes, there are low levels of humidity. If you don't drink enough water during the flight, you can suffer from mild dehydration. Dehydration can also cause some symptoms of jet lag.
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