Jet Lag (cont.)
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What is jet lag?
- What are other symptoms and signs of jet lag?
- What is a time zone?
- Why does jet lag occur?
- How does the body keep time?
- What is the role of melatonin in jet lag?
- Does the direction of travel matter?
- Do the symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity?
- How long does jet lag last?
- What are the best ways to cope with jet lag?
- Should I take melatonin?
Why does jet lag occur?
The cause of jet lag is the inability of the body of a traveler to immediately adjust to the time in a different zone. Thus, when a New Yorker arrives in Paris at midnight Paris time, his or her body continues to operate on New York time. As the body struggles to cope with the new schedule, temporary insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and an impaired ability to concentrate may set in. The changed bathroom schedule may cause constipation or diarrhea, and the brain may become confused and disoriented as it attempts to juggle schedules.
How does the body keep time?
Our bodies have a sort of internal biological clock that follows a 24-hour cycle, called a circadian rhythm. A tiny part of the brain called the hypothalamus acts like an alarm clock to activate various body functions such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. It also regulates body temperature, blood pressure, and the level of hormones and glucose in the bloodstream. To help the body tell the time of day, fibers in the optic nerve of the eye transmit perceptions of light and darkness to a timekeeping center within the hypothalamus. Thus, when the eye of an air traveler perceives dawn or dusk many hours earlier or later than usual, the hypothalamus may trigger activities that the rest of the body is not ready for, and jet lag occurs.
What is the role of melatonin in jet lag?
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in body rhythms and jet lag. After the sun sets, the eyes perceive darkness and alert the hypothalamus to begin releasing melatonin, which promotes sleep. Conversely, when the eyes perceive sunlight, they tell the hypothalamus to withhold melatonin production. However, the hypothalamus cannot readjust its schedule instantly; it takes several days.
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