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Why do we get jet lag?

jet lag, flying, air europa

Whether you travel around the world for business or pleasure, you will almost certainly have suffered at some point from the dreaded jet lag,  a term that means that our normal schedule has been altered.

Jet lag is actually caused by an imbalance between our internal clock and the new time zone that we find ourselves in. What’s more, the effects of jet lag depend on whether we fly west or east.

Why do we experience jet lag ?

Our biological clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, controls our feeling of sleep and activity. Daylight regulates our biological clock, therefore, when we travel to a different time zone, our biological clock is unable to immediately synchronise with the local time.

Normally, the symptoms of jet lag manifest clearly when there is over five hours difference between our normal time and the new time zone. We experience jet lag as feeling tired at unusual times, finding it difficult to fall asleep despite being tired, insomnia, poor concentration during the day, and feeling clumsy and irritable.

Is it worse to fly east or west?

For most people, it is worse to fly east than west, because we feel more awake during the night and sleepy during the day. If you travel frequently to Asian countries with a time difference of over 6 or 7 hours, you will probably know just how shattering a midday meeting can be. And this is hardly surprisingly since the time that we normally go to sleep becomes our wake-up time.

On the other hand, jet lag can be more bearable when travelling east, for example to the United States or South America. It takes less time for our bodies to get used to these time zones as compared to travelling to the east.

How can we reduce the effects of jet lag ?

The following recommendations for before flying, during the flight, and on arrival at your destination can help to reduce the side effects of jet lag:

  • If you are going to stay for more than two or three days, try to to go to sleep and get up earlier than usual if you are flying to the east, or to wake up and go to sleep later if you are flying to the west.
  • As soon as you board the plan, adjust your watch to the local time of your destination.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine at least three or four hours before going to sleep. Both act as stimulants and delay sleeping.
  • Once at your destination, avoid eating large meals.
  • Avoid intense exercise before going to sleep, however, some mild exercise may be beneficial.
  • Elements such as ear plugs will help to reduce noise and a face mask will block out light, helping you to sleep.
  • Try to go out into sunlight as soon as possible. Daylight is a very powerful stimulant for regulating our biological clock.
  • According to the experts, stress is a problem that can worsen insomnia. Activate your zen mode.
  • Jet lag affects every single cell in our body. In fact, all of our skin cells are affected, which is why jet lag increases the risk of sunburn. So make sure to apply suncream frequently when sunbathing.

Have you suffered from jet lag? Do you have any advice for coping with jet lag?

Eva María Gomez Gomez

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