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Is Jet Lag Really Worse When You Travel East?

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Have you been aware of this theory or so-called travel myth? Apparently, there is a difference in the severity of jet lag, depending on whether you are traveling to the west or east. Since jet lag is the cause of many burning questions among travelers, such as how to beat it, how to prepare for it, and most importantly, how to avoid it, today we are going to unravel all about this boiling topic.

Jet Lag for Beginners

When choosing your next travel destination, you are probably not thinking much about jet lag, but if you are traveling far away from home, be sure that you can hardly avoid it. Jet lag, faithful companion of every traveler, is a term which refers to the state of severe tiredness, followed by other symptoms such as irritability, sleep disturbances, dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite, etc.

While traveling is such a positive thing, it is, unfortunately, often followed by these unpleasant symptoms. If you are wondering why is this happening, the reason lies in the change of time zones. Desynchronosis or a time zone change syndrome is something that can also be experienced if you are working in shifts, but it is widely known as a consequence of long flights.

After traveling through different time zones, our sleep-wake cycle gets disrupted, and the more time zones we cross, the worse will our symptoms be once we land. Seniors are affected by it the most, while children go over it easily.

jet lag worse traveling east
Jet lag can cause you to sleep at odd times during the day

Breaking the Myth

Although the theory sounds silly at first, because if you are on a 10+ hour-long flight with overlays, who cares if you are going east or west, it is still a long time on a plane, and a lot of time zones changed, right? Wrong, jet lag symptoms are worse when you are heading east, and it is all based on math, so if you were not paying attention at your math classes (we do not blame you), here is a simplified explanation of how it all works.

Researchers from the University of Maryland got an idea to try solving this mystery with the help of math models. They came to the conclusion that brain cells that are making the circuit of our circadian rhythm are not doing it with the same speed. Some will finish slightly sooner than the 24 hours, while others will take some extra time. But in these particular circumstances, when the brain cells are left on their own, with no alarm clocks, or sunrise light to disrupt their work, they will need a bit more than one day, approximately around 30 minutes above the 24 hours.

While flying west is giving us some extra daytime hours, and making our adjustment to different timezone more smooth, going east will cut our daytime and put our circadian rhythm out of sync. And those 30 minutes are a small but significant reason which makes our recovery much harder when we are traveling towards the east, because in a way we are moving forward through time, in terms of hours. That is why, in this case, our body will need a day and a half per time zone to readjust, while when we are going west, it takes less than one day per time zone.

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Useful Tips for Mitigating The Symptoms of Jet Lag

Prevention can be helpful if you have enough time to prepare your body for the upcoming change, so here is our list of suggestions for a quicker recovery.

  • If possible, opt for a flight with an arrival time in the local, evening hours, so that you can get a chance to be in bed before midnight.
  • When traveling eastward, try going to bed and waking up earlier than usual for at least a week. By doing so, you will prepare yourself and adapt better, and if you are flying west, then you should stay up later and sleep longer in the morning.
  • Try being active as much as you can during your flight, take a walk down the aisle, and stretch your legs and arms.
  • If you are traveling to attend some important events, try scheduling your flight a few days before, so that you have enough time to adapt to the new time zone.
  • Schedule your nap time according to your destination time, bring earplugs and an eye mask to help you isolate the light, noisy surroundings, and induce sleep.
  • Avoid taking alcohol and caffeine on your flight because you will feel dehydrated, instead drink plenty of water. Dehydration can worsen your symptoms, which is why it is essential to stay hydrated.
  • Once you arrive at your destination, try not to crash as soon as you arrive if it is still daytime. Try spending time outside, in the sun, and wait for the evening hours to go to sleep.

Of course that people are not going to stop traveling east because of this, but after all, this is a small yet significant step in understanding how jet lag works, and hopefully it will serve as a starting point for some other researches regarding jet lag.

Author: Selena Thomas is a content writer who loves sharing tips on healthy lifestyles. A writer by day and a reader by night, she’s fond of writing articles that can help people in improving both physical and mental health. Also, she loves traveling and inspires people on her blogs.

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