Frequent flyers dealt with this problem at least once in their travels. Until now, nobody knew why flying east gives you worse jet lag than flying in any other direction. However, thanks to a new study published in the Physics’ Chaos Journal of the American Institute, there is a scientific explanation for the strange phenomenon.
The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus
This Tuesday, a team of researchers from the Electronics Research Institute at Maryland University analyzed the strange occurrence that happens on the flight from San Francisco to New York, but not on the other way around.
According to their research, some specific brain cells that act as a pacemaker have a more difficult time dealing with traveling east than west.
The circadian rhythm of our bodies (also known as the sleep-wake cycle) is controlled by an area of the brain dubbed the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The researchers involved in the cited study devised a mathematical algorithm that predicts how this particular brain area reacts when a traveler heads east, or in nature’s terms, towards the opposite direction of our sun.
The main idea of the study is that when an individual is exposed to a sudden change in daylight exposure (exactly the case of a traveler going east) the pacemaker cells of the brain have a rough time establishing an appropriate rhythm for the new time zone, thus triggering symptoms like daytime fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
Imagine a Car Racing in a Circular Track
Michelle Girvan, a Physics associate professor from the Technology and Science Institute at the University of Maryland tried to explain the phenomenon in simple terms.
She stated that the entire process is similar to what happens to a car that is racing on a circular track. The pacemaker cells in the brain act like the car in question. The sun is the individual carrying the flag that signals the duration of each course.
In the absence of a regular controlling force, the circuit may no longer correspond to the time specific for one day. When heading towards the opposite direction of the sun, the body’s circadian rhythm is affected. That is why flying east gives you worse jet lag than flying in any other direction.
Girvan stated that her research might shape the way in which we understand jet lag and set the foundation for finding an efficient cure for jet lag.
Now that you know why flying east gives you worse jet lag than flying anywhere else, will you try to avoid this route?
Photo credits: Wikipedia