The Effects of Jet Lag: Here’s What It Does to Your Body

Everyone loves to travel, but before you board the plane to paradise, keep in mind what happened the last time you hopped multiple time zones. Did you wake up in Barcelona ready to explore La Rambla market or did you respond to your morning alarm by promptly turning it off and rolling over after realizing it was the middle of night at home? Chances are if you look back, you’ll see that anytime you travel abroad you spend ample time lying awake in the middle of the night and feeling desperate for a nap in the afternoon.

According to Dr. Smith L. Johnston, chief of the fatigue management team at NASA, it takes about a day for your body to shift just one time zone, which is why you may feel a nasty impact when you hop several. Ever wondered what jet lag is and how it impacts your body? Here’s everything you need to know.

1. Your internal clock is disrupted

man trying to fall asleep at night

During jet lag, your internal clock gets messed up. | iStock.com

Your body comes complete with its own handy internal clock. This clock is made up of a small group of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. These cells turn on and off in tune with the pattern of day and night, light and dark. Based on this and other signals, they tell the rest of your body when to sleep and can affect your hunger levels, mood, and blood pressure.

2. You stop responding to light

a man reading in bed

Jet lag impacts your response to light. | iStock.com

When you experience jet lag, your body hits the brakes to stop your body from responding to light in the way it naturally does in order to provide you with the sleep your body is desperately craving. This process of trying to preserve the stability of your internal clock slows down your body’s ability to adjust to the new time zone, making jet lag that much more difficult to get over.

3. Disturbed wake and sleep cycle

man sleeping on an office desk

Your wake and sleep cycles are disturbed by jet lag. | iStock.com

When you’re jet lagged, you’ll find it almost impossible to fall asleep at your normal bedtime. You may wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to go back to sleep, or may find yourself wide awake at insanely early hours. In addition to some mild insomnia, you may also experience excessive sleepiness and daytime fatigue that makes you want nothing more than to curl up in the corner of the Sistine Chapel and go to bed.

4. Stomach troubles

a man who feels sick

Your digestion may feel off. | iStock.com

Not only does jet lag impact your wake and sleep cycle but it can influence your body’s natural digestion process, a crucial function of the body that converts your food into essential nutrients and eliminates unused waste. When you suffer from jet lag, you may experience constipation, diarrhea, and even nausea. Your hunger levels may also be impacted, with some experts suggesting you try fasting while flying and feasting upon arrival at your destination.

5. Loss of brainpower

young man massaging his nose and keeping eyes closed

Jet lag may make your brain suffer. | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

One study found hamsters suffering extreme, chronic jet lag had about half the normal rate of new neuron birth in one part of the brain. The hamsters also showed a decrease in their ability to learn and their memory retention. While studies like these need to be explored further, the sleep hormone melatonin, stress, and increased cell death are possible reasons for the loss of brainpower.

6. Increased stress

nervous and stressed young woman

Jet lag may make you feel more stressed. | iStock.com/SIphotography

If you travel occasionally, you may get away with nothing more than increased fatigue and some minor stomach troubles, but those with chronic jet lag can expect more serious side effects. When there is a long-term and repeated disturbance of the body’s natural circadian rhythm, a person can experience physiological and psychological impairment with induced stress.

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