If you have had the opportunity to travel to faraway countries like the USA or Japan, or have met someone who has traveled from there to India, you may have heard of them complaining about ‘Jet lag’. Jet lag is a disorder that occurs when you travel across multiple time zones within a very short amount of time, such that your circadian rhythm is not able to adjust to the rapidly changing time zones.

Some people describe this feeling of jet lag as being ‘out of phase’. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm seems out of phase with the time zone that you have arrived in. Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui, an amazon native who traveled to New York by plane, described the feeling of Jet lag in a very poetic way saying, “Your body arrives by plane here, but your soul takes two-three days to arrive.”


Symptoms of Jet Lag

A person suffering from Jet lag may feel excessive sleepiness during the day, may feel hunger at an odd time, may experience cold even when it is warm, and maybe awake in the night though they are suffering from sleep deprivation.

There are two main factors that contribute to Jet Lag- a sudden and rapid change in your circadian rhythm and sleep deprivation.


Circadian Rhythms

Plants and animals have a built-in body clock called a biological clock or circadian rhythm within themselves that allows them to flower at the appropriate time or sleep at the appropriate time. If you were to keep a plant or animal in total darkness, it would continue to behave according to the inbuilt biological clock. These biological clocks are in tune with light/dark changes, i.e sunlight, and darkness. The human circadian rhythm is a little longer than 24 hours.

Information regarding light is carried into a region of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus through our eyes. It then signals the pineal gland to secrete melatonin at night. The hypothalamus also sends signals to other parts of the body that control behaviors such as feeding sleeping, body temperature, and hormone production.


Flying across time zones

Now, if you happen to travel across multiple time zones, your internal body clock would not be able to adjust with the time zones rapidly. For example, according to your biological clock, it may be 10 am in the morning, but by air travel, you have reached a place where it is 4 pm. This misalignment in circadian rhythm is the primary cause of jet lag. The severity of the symptoms of jet leg are also increased because of shortened sleep duration and reduced sleep quality.

When you fly from east to west, you gain a few hours, whereas the opposite happens when you fly from west to east. Flying towards the west, feel easier because people find it easier to stay awake late into the night rather than to sleep early. This may be because our internal body clock is just over 24 hours.


Feeling the Monday Morning Blues

Similarly, many people stay up late during the week and then sleep in during the weekends. They then complain of ‘Monday morning blues’. Now, you know why they feel that way- due to a rapid shift in their circadian rhythm along with sleep deprivation.


Did you know that astronauts aboard the International Space Station, experience a sunrise every 90 minutes!! They find it very difficult to sleep and they are said to be in a perpetual state of Jet Lag!


Coping with Jet Lag

Jet Lag is treated by trying to reset the body clock through a good sleep schedule. This is done by fixing appropriate time for light exposure i.e maintaining light or dark atmosphere. In some cases, drugs or medicines are given to the individual to reduce day time sleepiness and bring about sleep at night and reduce insomnia.

Not respecting your internal body clock can cause severe effects such as that seen of Jet Lag. Why suffer when you can avoid it? Sleep well and sleep on time.


Further reading





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About Author

Saunri Dhodi Lobo is pursuing M.Sc in Life Sciences with specialization in Neurobiology. Her interests include writing poetry, going for nature walks and swimming. Currently she is involved in research on Alzheimer’s Disease in fruit flies.

Read all Articles by Saunri Dhodi Lobo


Photos, Vector Graphics & Illustrations Credits

Jet Lag: Exhausted passengers at airport by Alberto Vaccaro

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