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Scientists Have Discovered Why Jet Lag Feels Worse When Travelling From West To East

Jet lag may well be the bane of the world’s most avid travellers but scientists have potentially discovered why travelling from west to east can make the effect much worse.

To come to this conclusion, savvy academics from the University of Maryland developed a model which mimicked the special time-keeping cells in the human body. What they found via mathematical modelling of these cells was an answer to the increase in jet lag via this direction of flight, as well as further insights into recovery.

Let’s get technical for a minute. The inner-brain has a region called the hypothalamus which conveniently has its own internal clock ticking away. For every 24 hours lapsed, the 20,000 special pacemaker cells residing inside synchronise with one another to tell the body whether it’s day or night. The cells can distinguish this based on the light levels received from the external environment. For those playing at home, daylight means get up, night time means sleepy time.

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Flying across multiple time zones such as going from Australia to England essentially messes up the rhythm of these cells which have their process sorted down to a tee. When this confusion happens the body attempts to pinpoint a time and doesn’t know whether to rest or stay awake. This ultimately results in the unwanted phenomenon known as jet lag.

Michelle Girvan who is a physicist who helped head the study added that, “most of our internal clocks are a little bit slow, and in the absence of consistent light cues – like when you travel across time zones – the pacemaker cells in your body want to have a longer day.”

“This is all because the body’s internal clock has a natural period of slightly longer than 24 hours, which means that it has an easier time traveling west and lengthening the day than traveling east and shortening the day,” Dr. Girvan explained.

All of these explanations wouldn’t be so helpful without a remedy though. Jet lag can be countered by simply adjusting your internal clock to the place of destination as quickly as possible. Luckily for you, we’ve got seven handy jet lag cures for the world traveller.

[via NYT]




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