Scientifically reviewed by Team

Written by

Kelly Bension

Kelly is a Performance Sleep Coach who works with athletes, entrepreneurs, and people looking to optimize their rest for ultimate energy and recovery. With a background in holistic health and wellness, she blends ancient principles with modern sleep science to help her clients overcome insomnia, daytime fatigue, and disturbed sleep.

Jet Lag – How it affects cognitive and physical performance?

Wanna beat jet lag? Watch this video to learn how jet lag affects your physical and cognitive performance, how to avoid it and how to overcome it quickly.

Anyone who has traveled across multiple time zones has undoubtedly experienced jet lag. The extreme daytime fatigue and feeling wired at night can wreak havoc on your body and brain, especially when you’re unfamiliar with how jet lag works and feel unprepared for it.

Fortunately, jet lag is health scenario that you can prepare for and should. In this video, we’re going to discuss:

We’re going to talk about light exposure, naps, caffeine, nutrition and more.

It’s time to get performance ready. Lets dive in.

Jet Lag – Symptoms and Causes

Jet lag is a recognized sleep disorder that is experienced after rapid travel across multiple time zones (also known as transmeridian travel). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines jet lag as a syndrome involving insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness following travel across at least 2 time zones.

The symptoms that are most common include:

These symptoms happen because your body’s circadian rhythm is no longer being synchronized to the local time. The internal sleep-wake cycle is out of phase with the local light-dark cycle, causing drowsiness or arousal at “inappropriate” times.

For example, if you leave New York on a flight at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, and arrive in Paris at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, your internal clock still thinks it’s 1:00 a.m. That means you’re ready for bed just as everyone around you in Paris is waking up.

Your sleep schedule is primarily modulated by exposure to light and secretion of melatonin, which is secreted in the pineal gland for 10-12 hours in the evening and helps to induce sleep. Light inhibits secretion of melatonin and stimulates arousal. This is controlled  by the “master clock” in your brain that uses light exposure to coordinate all the workings of organs. Interestingly enough, your organs also operate on their own clocks, which means this desynchronization affects more than just sleep, but also body temperature, blood pressure, hormone regulation, hunger levels and hunger times.

Generally speaking, jet lag symptoms usually persists for 1 day for each time zone crossed until the body realigns its circadian clock. Symptoms are likely to get worse or last longer the more time zones that you’ve crossed.

Yet not all travel is created equal.

Traveling west is easier on our body than traveling east. For example, if you travel west across nine time zones, it would take approximately 8 days to recover. However, if you cross nine time zones going east, the recovery would take more than 13 days.

This happens because your circadian rhythm runs on a slightly longer than 24-hour cycle. It’s about 24 hours and 15 minutes to be exact and your body has an easier time lengthening the day versus shortening it.

What kind of sleeper you are may also affect how severe jet lag symptoms are for you. If you’re a morning-type person that prefers to wake up early, you may have less difficulty flying eastward, while “evening-type people,” who prefer to wake up late, have less difficulty flying westward (3)

High performers with rigid sleeping habits may also experience greater symptoms than those who are more flexible with sleep. Being so dependent on your routine, means you’re going to have a harder time adjusting and must really plan ahead.

How Jet Lag  Affects Physical Performance?

So let’s see how jet lag actually affects physical performance?

Jet lag has been shown to cause a decrease in:

In a study by Northwestern University, researchers looked at Major League Baseball data from more than 40,000 games over the course of 20 years. What they found was that traveling more than two time zones affected player performance in subtle but detectable ways. During games where a team traveled from West-East, there was a calculable difference in hitting, running, and pitching performance.

When it comes to sports, west coast teams consistently beat east coast teams during evening games.

Cognitively, jet lag has a profound impact. Mood and complex mental performance tasks deteriorate almost immediately with sudden changes in circadian rhythm. Travelers will experience a general loss of motivation, mental clouding and feelings of agitation. Which coincides with an increase in cortisol levels after long flights. It’s even been known to cause lapses in memory and learning because of possible hippocampal deficits.

What is Social Jet Lag?

You may have heard of the term social jet lag. It shouldn’t be confused with “standard” jet lag. Social jet lag is not caused by traveling. It is actually a more severe type of sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s circadian rhythm is not in sync with our normal social time. For instance, time that should traditionally be spent being active or sleeping does not align with the biological clock of the affected person. People who are struggling with this particular condition actually have delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) or advanced sleep-wake phase disorder (ASWPD). Symptoms of these disorders are similar to jet lag. The patients regularly feel tired, sleepy, and have problems with focusing. Social jet lag can also happen to people who work almost every day of the week.

Jet Lag Prevention Tips

Now you can’t avoid jet lag completely, but you can make things easier on yourself by not fighting it.

The best ways to do this are typically behavioral versus pharmacological, and when done correctly can save you precious time and energy at your new destination.

Wrapping Up

As  mentioned, it’s not possible to totally beat jet lag, especially with large time differences, but with proper preparation you can minimize it’s effects and even use it to your advantage.

If you find this video useful, share it with someone who is planning a long distance trip soon and tell us what you think in the comment section below. 

Also, check out the references used to create this article.



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