Tuesday, September 10, 2013


A jet lag is not a disease but a natural response of the body and should never be cured with a drug.

In this article I will explain what happens in the body, that will give a jet lag and how you can minimize the chance of getting one. I am just talking about a healthy* man, when I am talking about examples. It is never possible to write the article for every man, who can have a disease, because no disease is identical but only unique. If you have questions on behalf of your health, when you want to travel by plane, you best contact your specialist, because he knows what is best for you. *A healthy human does not exist. There always can be a failure in the genes. But talking here about a healthy man, means for as far as possible.

First of all I can exclude a possibility of getting a jet lag when you fly from North to South and reverse. Traveling by plane in the same time zone, will not give a jet lag. Not even when you get into another zone. Normally spoken, when you fly on daytime, you can make three time zones, without any problems. There has been done research in America about traveling with young people, who fly frequently in three time zones, you can find the results here: Associationsbetween jet lag and cortisol diurnal rhythms after domestic travel. In this document they are talking about cortisol, which is used to wake-up the body and get it ready for the day.

Man is not created with the aim to fly, birds are. We can learn from the animal kingdom how we can swim and breath under water; from birds how to fly and many other examples could be written down, but it has nothing to do with this article. So when man are going to fly, we can expect problems. Why do birds take a rest in the middle of their journey? Yes, to prevent getting a jet lag and not to lose their orientation.

In our brain there is a body clock. The clock mechanism is present in all brain cells, and in most other cells. It makes sure that our body functions as it should be. However it seems that it coincides with the time set by the man, the clock functions as in nature. Time is created by man, see my article “Time”. That means that where ever you go, nature is doing its work.
This moment I am in The Netherlands and I want to travel to Russia. That is two time zones. During my trip (eastwards) my body clock will set to the new time per zone, but it will not go that fast as the trip will do, because there are many functions in the brain that needs to be reset to the new time. It already happens during my traveling and it does not matter if I am on the ground or in a plane. If I want to travel further away, the same will happen. The new biological time will set during the trip. Our body clock is responding to the magnetic field of the earth. By the way, not only humans have such a clock, animals and plants have them too.

Let me start with the story how you can get a jet lag and how you can avoid getting one or and how you can minimize the effects.

When you travel westwards in daytime, there almost never will be a chance to get a jet lag. You will learn about that more when I am talking about traveling eastwards. Flying in the middle of the night or early in the morning can give a jet lag. To show you how, I will start now with the story of a nice man, who is going to travel from Amsterdam (The Netherlands) to Hangzhou (China).  

(press the image to get a bigger view)

His plane departure is at 3 pm and he will arrive next day at 7:30 in Hangzhou. Most people will change their clock when they arrive, but the body clock already made those settings during the flight. There will be a difference of 6 time zones (from 1 – Departure till 7 – Arrival). Our brain will make every step directly when the plane is above a next zone. 

As you can see, the melatonin started somewhere at 10pm (7pm on the clock of the traveler). Three ours earlier than the man should expect. With the melatonin still active, the cortisol start doing its work. So one hormone is closing the business while another is opening the business. Melatonin helps to break down the active, energetic hormones in your system to allow your body to sleep and recuperate. It shuts down brain activity, and makes it harder to think clearly or to concentrate. Melatonin also pulls oxygen and needed hormones away from your muscle tissue and other cells, making it difficult to be physically active. As a result, you feel tired, withdraw, and want to sleep. Cortisol is doing the opposite and makes the body ready for the day.  

Normally spoken this man needs six days to recover from his trip, because every time zone correcting needs one day. How can he prevent getting a jet lag? NOT by the use of drugs, that is the baddest solution which he can take.
The best solution is the same which pilots use. Getting enough rest before traveling. Drinking no alcohol one day before the trip. Also no caffeinated beverages. Carbonated drinks are also out of the question. Light food is perfect and of course 2 liters of water a day.
So when the man has to travel on a Wednesday, his journey starts on Tuesday:
  • Drinking enough water (2 liters a day);
  • Eat light food;
  • Get enough rest. Go to bed an hour earlier. Doing a nap in the afternoon is also a good initiative, only not longer than 1 hour;
  • Stay in bed the next morning till the normal time to get out;
  • NO alcohol, caffeinated beverages and carbonated drinks.
He will let someone else bring him to the airport and he takes an eye shade with him. In the plane he goes several times to the toilet, specially when his biological clock is getting near the activation of melatonin (approximately 7pm in the example of the man). Then he will relax, put the eye shade on and tries to go to sleep. He will ask the purser or stewardess to wake him around 11pm (traveler time). Going afterward to the toilet and again drink some water.

When that man is going back home the next figure will show you what is going to happen:

(press the image to get a bigger view)

As you can see, on his clock it will be midnight when he arrives home, but his body clock tells it is 6:55pm. No worries about the start of melatonin. But a good rest in bed will do wonders to him.

Giving now an example how you can see if you get a jet lag or not. There is an easy formula I made for you, showing traveling eastwards:

Travel time divided by the number of time zones. You take the departure time and which you place in zone 1 (that is were you are at the start). Make columns for all the other time zones and you start counting the time with the travel time per zone (remember: 1 hour is 60 minutes, so 1:57 = 117 minutes). For the calculating of the biological clock (body clock), you ad for zone 2, 1 hour; zone 3, 2 hours; zone 4, 3 hours; etc. See the image below.

(press the image to get a bigger view)

For traveling westwards on this trip just use minus hours in the zones.

I told you before that you almost never can get a jet lag when you travel westwards. The moments when it can happen is when you travel at night near the border of melatonin and cortisol.

Have a pleasant and healthy flight!