This is the oldest travel myth in the book. Anyone who has travelled across several time zones has experienced jet lag but the cause of jet lag has little to do with not getting enough shut-eye while you’re travelling. What is to blame for jet lag?
Changing time zones quickly is nothing but disruptive and actually quite annoying! Any traveller who has flown long-haul from London on flights to New York or the other direction to Singapore knows this. While many think that jet lag is caused by lack of sleep, it’s actually connected to your personal circadian clock.
A circadian clock, or circadian oscillator, is a biochemical mechanism that oscillates with a period of 24 hours and is coordinated with the day-night cycle. Circadian clocks are the central mechanisms which drive circadian rhythms. They consist of three major components:
- A central oscillator with a period of about 24 hours that keeps time
- A series of input pathways to this central oscillator to allow entrainment of the clock
- A series of output pathways tied to distinct phases of the oscillator that regulate overt rhythms in biochemistry, physiology, and behavior throughout an organism
The clock is reset as the environment changes through an organism’s ability to sense external time cues of which the primary one is light.
Thanks Wikipedia! So now that we all know what a circadian clock is (also called our biological clock) we can better understand what’s going on inside our bodies when we travel. This is the clock that our bodies use to regulate our appetite, bowel habits, even body temperature and blood pressure. It’s influenced by daylight which explains why travelling east, when the day gets shorter, tends to cause greater jet lag than travelling west.
What causes jet lag? A disruption in our circadian rhythm, which is kept by our circadian clock.
Why do we feel so tired? We tend to feel really tired or stir all night if our body is having a difficult time adjusting to a new schedule when our circadian rhythm has been disrupted.
How can we reduce the effects of jet lag? Luckily there are a few tricks for reducing the severity of jet lag when we travel. Here are a few tips (compliments of the NHS).
- Drink loads of water. Reduced air pressure in an airline cabin also means the amount of oxygen in your blood is reduced which makes us feel dehydrated. So remember to keep drinking water throughout your journey.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. Skip the complimentary wine that comes with your inflight dinner.
- Bring along a sleep mask and earplugs and try to get as much shut-eye as possible when you’re travelling.
Travel Myth Buster is a recurring series on the Traveller’s Blog. We debunk popular travel myths like flying with fresh fillings to the best time to book flights. Check out more travel myth busters on the Traveller’s Blog!