Jetlag ( jet lag ): what is it?

Civilization has given us many benefits, but at the same time it has burdened us with many problems that no one heard about a hundred years ago. The presence of these benefits makes life richer, more interesting, just brings pleasure! International airlines provide an opportunity to find yourself in a country located on the back of the globe in eight to ten hours. Skyliners have made our planet “small”. A business meeting on another continent or a romantic weekend on the shores of the warm ocean have become almost everyday events for those who can afford to buy a plane ticket. But how to conduct business or enjoy the rest, if you feel overwhelmed, you can’t sleep, your digestion is upset? Jetlag – this is the name of the payment for the opportunity to quickly be at the end of the world.

circadian rhythms

The world we live in is cyclical. Day turns to night, coolness to heat, winter to spring, and so on. A person is a part of the world, which means that he also lives in the regime of interchangeable phases. Circadian rhythms are called periodic fluctuations in the characteristics and indicators of various processes occurring in the human body under the influence of the change of day at night and vice versa.

The simplest biological rhythm is the alternation of sleep and wakefulness. Such cyclicity is a biological clock, the course of which determines our well-being, mood, performance, and general health.

One complete circadian cycle is approximately equal to the rotation of the planet around its axis, it takes about twenty-four hours. Such periodicity is inherent not only to us, but also to all living organisms of the Earth: animals, fish, plants, even bacteria.

Fluctuations in the characteristics and indicators of the processes occurring in our bodies are affected by external stimuli (day or night). But internal factors have a decisive influence on the biological clock.

The main ones are:

  • general health;
  • the immune system;
  • gender identity;
  • age;
  • heredity.

At different times of the day, we feel different: alert or tired, ready for activity or sleepy, quick-thinking or unable to concentrate. All these conditions are a consequence of the changing concentration of certain hormones in the blood, that is, the activity of the endocrine system.

For example, the endocrine system produces sleep-inducing hormones only when we fall asleep at night. The active development of these elements is carried out in the period from eleven o’clock in the evening to half past two at night. When light rays hit the retina, the production of sleep hormones stops, their concentration in the blood decreases sharply. Moreover, this process will occur even if you close your eyes.

Possible causes of jet lag

As long as the biological clock is working properly, we feel great. But what happens if the natural course of things is disrupted? What can cause disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms?

The most common cause of a destructive effect on human biorhythms is a long flight on an airliner with the intersection of a number of time zones for several hours. Moreover, the scale of violation of the course of biological rhythms is largely affected not by the duration of the air flight, but by its vector. From the course of school geography, we can recall that at the same moment in different parts of the Earth, clocks will show different values of time. This is due to the spherical shape of the planet, the features of its movement around the axis, as well as relative to the Sun.

Time zones are located along the meridians from pole to pole, there are twenty- four of them in total. Time at any point on the planet on the same meridian is the same, but on adjacent ones it differs by sixty minutes. If you fly by plane along the meridian without changing the time zone, even ten or twelve hours, then there will be no failure of the body’s circadian rhythms. If the flight path crosses the meridians, then several time zones change in a relatively short period. Such an air travel, even lasting three to four hours, significantly violates the naturalness of human biorhythms.

Even the direction of the flight vector affects the subsequent recovery. If the plane was flying in a westerly direction, then the normalization of biorhythms proceeds at a rate of one hour during the day. With the eastern, the rate of normalization is about one and a half hours a day.

Syndrome of malfunction of the biological clock – though on a much more modest scale – can also manifest itself during the annual transfer of arrows to winter (summer) time. Circadian rhythm disturbances are also possible during shift work, when you have to adapt to night shifts and try to sleep during the day.

The emergence of jet lag

A sharp change in the time zone does not leave time for the body to smoothly rebuild, adapt to new realities. For example: the average flight time from Berlin to Washington is about nine hours. If you fly out in the morning, you will find yourself in America at lunchtime (according to the local chronometer), but the internal chronometer tells you that it’s time to get ready for bed! A conflict arises that has a destructive effect on metabolism, the activity of the nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine systems, disorientation or discord of many vital systems occurs.

This natural reaction of the body to a gross violation of the course of circadian rhythms in medicine is called desynchronosis or transmeridian dyschronism .

But more often such a disorder is called jet lag, in English spelling – “ jet lag “. The first part of the phrase is translated as “aircraft, reactivity”, the second – “slow, delay, delay”.

If the profession requires frequent, multiple transmeridian flights, this threatens the development of chronic desynchronosis.


Jet lag does not occur in all passengers of the aircraft. Some easily adapt to the conditions of a different time zone. But most air travelers still experience symptoms of desynchronosis. The brightness of the signs of the described syndrome depends on age, general health, gender. Here are the main symptoms:

  • Decreased quality of sleep. It can be insomnia, a long problem falling asleep, a very sensitive sleep, which is accompanied by frequent nighttime awakenings. In addition, during the day there is a feeling of drowsiness, fatigue, weakness, devastation.
  • Failures of the digestive system. Any component of the spectrum can appear: constipation, diarrhea, nausea, poor appetite.
  • Prolonged migraines, which in some cases are accompanied by disorientation in space, dizziness.
  • An uncharacteristic increase or decrease in blood pressure.
  • Menstrual disorders in women.

In most cases, adaptation to the new time zone takes several days. Sometimes this period can be delayed for a week or more. If the symptoms are very pronounced, keep for a long time, then you should consult a doctor.

Forms of desynchronosis

Jet lag can be triggered by air travel, accompanied by the crossing of several meridians, or changes in the work schedule. This form of disorder is called social.

Depending on the brightness and abundance of symptoms, jet lag is conditionally classified into a syndrome of severe, moderate and mild categories. According to the duration of the period during which the symptoms of transmeridian dyschronism , the disorder is acute (up to 7 days), subacute (from a week to several months), chronic (four or more months). Subacute jet lag affects people who have made several transmeridian flights within three to 12 weeks. The chronic form of the syndrome affects those who often have to change time zones.


Jetlag is diagnosed, as a rule, on the basis of anamnesis data, such as the history of the development of the disease, existing chronic pathologies, possible allergies, hereditary tendencies, etc. The data of the anamnesis are supplemented by the patient’s complaints. In most cases, complaints relate to violations of the quality of sleep, although often the symptoms are complex: insomnia, accompanied by constipation (for example), irritability, and so on down the list.

The causes of biorhythm disturbances are also determined by the polysomnography method , which consists in a complex study of the body during sleep. A person suffering from desynchronosis can be referred for testing, ultrasound. This will help to make sure that there are no diseases of the internal organs that cause manifestations similar to those of jet lag.

Sometimes a psychiatric consultation is required, since the signs of individual mental disorders are similar to those of desynchronosis.


Most often, the symptoms of jet lag go away on their own after a couple of days. However, if the syndrome becomes chronic, it is fraught with complications.

The consequence of a constant disruption of circadian rhythms can be nervous exhaustion, accompanied by suicidal thoughts. Attempts to overcome the symptoms of transmeridian dyschronism often takes the form of taking large doses of sleeping pills, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks. Such immoderation can lead to overdose, alcoholism, disorders of the cardiovascular system. If there are any chronic diseases of the internal organs, then against the background of jet lag they can become aggravated. The same applies to mental disorders.

Jetlag therapy

transmeridian syndrome desynchrony has not yet been fully studied, so the method of treatment is still a debatable issue.

Melatonin tablets will quickly relieve unpleasant symptoms. This neurohormonal drug, which corrects the disruption of the biological clock, is also an effective sleeping pill.

Doctors sometimes recommend taking this medicine in combination with rapid-acting hypnotics to improve the quality of sleep. To maintain daily activity during the period of adaptation in the new time zone, stimulants may be taken.


It is always easier to prevent a problem than to get rid of its unpleasant consequences. Or at least prepare for them to mitigate their impact. Most often, a trip to a distant country is not the result of an unexpected decision, usually the trip becomes known in advance. To minimize the manifestations of the transmeridian desynchronization after landing in a new country, some preparatory work should be done.

Here are the main steps:

  • Examination at the medical center. This will give information about the current state of health, determine the situation with chronic diseases. Perhaps before the flight it is worth receiving medical treatment, and on a trip to take a supply of drugs in case of an exacerbation.
  • Sports. A trained body adapts more easily to new time zones, so you should pay attention to your physical form. Any option will do: morning exercises, jogging, fitness.
  • Correction of the daily routine. You can find out on the Internet the time difference in another country and gradually adjust to its time zone. For example, if the flight is in an easterly direction, then each evening the bedtime should be practiced a little earlier.
  • A couple of weeks before the flight, you should stop drinking alcohol and coffee. Alcohol dehydrates the body, making it more vulnerable to jet lag, and some elements of coffee disrupt the course of biorhythms.

These simple actions will minimize the consequences of desynchronosis and help you quickly get used to the new realities.

Actions during air travel and after landing

Experts studying the effects of jet lag have compiled a series of recommendations that clarify how to behave on an airplane and for the first time after arriving in a new country. Following these tips, along with the preparatory steps, will reduce the risk of a long, unpleasant adjustment to a different time zone. Here are the recommendations:

  • Psychological preparation. You should definitely stock up on a gadget with your favorite music, movies, take a good book on a trip. You can find information about the culture and specifics of the new country, learn a few phrases in the language used by the locals.
  • During the flight, once an hour, you should leave the chair. You can walk around the salon, squat, do a light workout. Sitting in your place, you should periodically rotate your head, this activates the blood circulation of the brain. Still sometimes it is necessary to wash with cold water, it invigorates.
  • If the flight is long, then it is desirable to have a transfer. Some inconveniences are compensated by the fact that the body will correct the biorhythms while staying at the intermediate airport.
  • No need to go hungry on the plane, the menus on the liners contain dishes that are easy to digest. The body of a well-fed person is more successful in dealing with any stress. But you should observe the measure – overeating will force the body to expend a lot of energy on food processing.
  • After landing, you must immediately get used to the local realities. For example, if it is morning in the country of arrival, then you need to have breakfast, do business. To go to bed, you have to wait until the evening, during the day it is advisable to follow the usual diet.
  • For the first 24 hours in a new time zone, you don’t have to sit all the time in your room, but you also shouldn’t take tiring walks or participate in crowded noisy events. It is better to spend the first day after landing in a calm familiarization mode: go to a cafe, shopping center or cinema.
  • Going to bed in the evening should avoid taking sleeping pills or alcohol. You should try to sleep on your own. To prevent noise, you can use earplugs.

Gadget for correcting biological rhythms

It would be strange if, in the computer age, the industry did not offer some kind of electronic device to combat jet lag. Such a gadget, of course, exists. A well-known Australian company produces something like electronic glasses that generate a special type of radiation that corrects circadian rhythms. The action of the gadget is based on the stimulation of a certain sector of the brain responsible for the normal course of the body’s biological clock.

Companies developing software for electronic devices also did not stand aside from solving the problem of transmeridian desynchrony . A number of applications have been created that anyone can install on their smartphone or tablet. The program will inform about jet lag prevention measures, make up a daily routine, and so on. The most famous programs of this profile are: Entrain , JetLagApp .

Popular jet myths lag

Many can at least once a year buy a ticket and visit a distant country. Consequently, more and more people are getting acquainted with jet lag. Discussions on the topic of combating biorhythm failures have formed a number of myths.

  • For example, there is a popular opinion that sleeping pills or alcohol is a panacea for desynchronosis. This is not true, the maximum is to fall asleep on the plane. The above will not save you from jetlag, and sometimes it can exacerbate unpleasant consequences.
  • Another myth: the conditions in the first class cabin will save you from the syndrome. It is not true, biorhythm failure is inevitable, it will just happen in more comfortable conditions.
  • Some people think that there are effective pills for jet lag – also a fiction. It is possible to make the symptoms less vivid with certain drugs, to speed up adaptation to the new time zone. Only time can finally restore the natural course of the biological chronometer.

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