Jet Lag: Causes and What Compounds It

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So, what causes jet lag? Let’s say that you just landed at the airport from a long flight across the world. You feel perfectly fine, exhilarated even. You’re finally home after that long business trip, and your family gives you a very warm welcome. After sharing stories and giving gifts to the kids, you go off to bed, vaguely noticing how tired you have suddenly become. You wake up the next day, six hours after you were supposed to wake up, and with a throbbing headache. You miss your first day at work back from abroad. You have been hit by the bane of every traveler – jet lag.

jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis, is a temporary condition that some people experience following air travel across different time zones. Your body clock gets out of sync with its destination time, as it goes through a daylight-to-darkness pattern contrary to what it is accustomed to. As the body struggles to adapt to its new environment, one may experience different degrees of discomfort. People who experience jet lag may have trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and even short tempers and a weak immune system because the rhythms that dictate times for sleeping, eating, hormone regulation and body temperature variations no longer jive with those of the external environment.

While it is certainly the main cause of jet lag, one cannot attribute the disorder to crossing time zones alone. Studies have shown that traveling from west to east can be more disruptive than traveling from east to west. This may be because most people have a circadian period that is just a little longer than 24 hours, meaning that it is easier to stay up late than wake up early. It may also be because eastbound flights are more likely to require travelers to stay awake more than one full night to adjust to the local time zone. Your preflight condition may also play a factor in how hard jet lag will hit you. If you are stressed, excited, tired or hung over before a flight, then say hello to a good dose of jet lag.

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