Did you know that jet lag is worse if you travel from West to East?
Three American scientists, Jeffrey Hall, Micheal Rosbash and Micheal Young who all won the 2017 Noble Prize for Physiology or Medicine explained this phenomenon with “their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.”
What does that mean exactly? Well, we all have a biological clock. In science, we call this the circadian rhythm. It is basically your 24-hour internal clock that is running in your brain that takes charge of your sleep/wake cycle. It manages your sleepiness and alertness. When it darks outside, the brain signals the body that you are already tired. The body in turn will release the hormone melatonin to help you prepare to go to sleep.
When outside forces like watching television until late at night or working on a job that entails you to report at night disrupt this cycle, your circadian rhythm gets confused. In short, our body is in sync with our planet particularly in the time zone of your place of residence.
For travelers, this is what you call jet-lag. Crossing time zones will throw your body’s internal clock altogether. It is even harder when you travel from west to east. The logic is that it is harder to move your sleeping time earlier than moving it later. Time zones go forward as you travel east. So, in effect the traveler ‘lose time’.
The good news is that our body clock does go back to normal. However, it will take time for our body to adjust its circadian rhythm. The body adjusts to an average of one to two time zones per day. So for example, if you cross six time zones, the body needs at least 3 – 6 days to adjust.