Jet Lag and the Science Behind It

Richmond Gbenga · Mar 25 2020

Travelling can be an exciting adventure…but it can quickly turn into a nightmare, especially if you’re traveling long distances across multiple time zones.

Jet lag is often associated with air travel and occurs when your body is knocked out of sync. 

So, what exactly is jet lag?

Jet lag is a physiological condition that results from alterations to the body's circadian rhythm, caused by rapid, long-distance (east–west or west–east) travel. 

For instance, someone flying from New York to London, [west to east] feels as if the time were five hours earlier than local time, and someone travelling from London to New York, [east to west] feels as if the time were five hours later than local time.

What’s the science behind jet lag? 

Normally, the body has and is used to its own circadian rhythm [aka body clock] which resets roughly every 24 hours. But, every time you cross a different time zone, your body is forced to adjust its internal clock to fit into the new rhythm. 

This unnatural process leads to feelings of exhaustion, restlessness and irritability…generally referred to as jet lag. Essentially, the body is wondering, “Where am I?”

Jet lag [sounds cool, huh?] leaves many people miserable. A 1998 study found that 94% of Americans who fly across time zones suffered from jet lag, while 45% of those cases were considered severe. 

Despite disruptive technologies like Slack and Skype that make working remotely seamless, business travel is still on the rise. In fact, the number of passengers flying internationally reached an all-time high, with over 107 million people in 2017 alone! 

Jet lag can lead to a host of health issues such as indigestion, daytime fatigue, insomnia, reduced productivity, impaired immune function, and even depression.

Some quick facts to keep in mind

  1. Contrary to popular belief, jet lag isn’t caused by how long you travel, but by how many time zones you cross...and it only occurs when you travel from east to west or west to east, and not in any other direction
  2. Air travel can make you experience travel fatigue with symptoms like, headaches and back pain, but it’s not the same thing as jet lag  
  3. The older you get, the more impactful the effects of jet lag…and the longer it takes for your body to bounce back
  4. The effect of jet lag is more intense if you travel from west to east than from east to west
  5. When you travel by air, the brain receives less oxygen. So, the longer you travel, the higher the effects of jet lag on your body 

 Jet lag doesn’t only happen in ‘jets’… 

Actually, people who have a different sleep pattern during the workweek than they do during weekends, can experience something called, social jet lag. 

So, if you set an alarm to wake up on weekdays, and then hit snooze to get more ZZZs during weekends, you could be at risk of obesity, reduced mental performance, or some other chronic illness associated with social jet lag.

According to Till Roenneberg, PHD - who coined the term - the risk of being obese or overweight increases by 33% for every one hour of social jet lag experienced. Also, it’s estimated that two-thirds of people experience at least one hour of social jet lag per week, while a third experience two hours or more.

So, there you have it!

Hold up…this wouldn’t be complete until we show you how to overcome jet lag, right? Exactly! So, click right here to watch our fun video on natural ways to overcome jet lag.

Want more scientific facts on jet lag? Great! Hook up with ‘scientist’ Lee via this wellness video, right here and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button. Did you find this piece interesting or helpful? Tag us @nestednaturals and use hashtag #SleepWakeThrive-- we’d love to hear from you!