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Jet lag – demystified. Theory versus practice.

Jet lag
Jet lag

In our previous article we mentioned a bucket list and happy travels that are very often included in it as a ‘must-do’ thing. However, one should bear in mind that travelling does not always bring you joy and happiness. It’s about jet lag.

And it’s not about one of those journeys that might turn into a nightmare due to enormous traffic jams in the heat, long delays, passport losses or pickpocket thefts but about something less extreme and not human-dependant, which in fact is natural and unavoidable. Just jet lag.

jet lag04 - Jet lag – demystified. Theory versus practice.

How often do you travel long haul? When was the last time you suffered from a terrible insomnia, headache and diarrhea at one go? Do you remember your worst hangover? The reason I am asking these three questions in a row is very simple – they all have a lot in common and come down to the word ‘jet lag’. Once the phrase is used in English everybody knows instantly what you are talking about and there is a slight chance they will also envy you, even though it is a very unpleasant condition. Why envious? Jet lag is strictly connected to long haul flights and changing time zones so if you admit to experiencing it that would mean you travelled long distances by plane. And who doesn’t want to travel, after all?
To make your friends less jealous tell them about all possible jet lag symptoms and demonise it as much as possible. Just like we do in this article.

Let’s analyse it word by word:

  • Jet – (noun) an aircraft powered by one or more jet engines or (verb) travel by jet aircraft.
  • Lag – fail to keep up with another or others in movement or development.

Looking at the meaning of these two words one can easily guess it is connected to air travel and lack of compatibility with others :). And this would actually be the best definition of jet lag. Those who suffered from a severe jet lag know exactly what incompatibility with the rest of the world means :).

In theory – What do dictionaries say about jet lag?

  • Jet lag, also called jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones, or
  • Extreme tiredness and other physical effects felt by a person after a long flight across different time zones.

Jet lag is a noun and in English it is composed by just two words so when someone says:

I had a terrible jet lag during my first week in Bali

it sounds normal. However, in some languages you can only explain its meaning in a wordy way, just like dictionaries do. For example, in Polish, it would say:

Zmęczenie spowodowane różnicą czasu (Tiredness caused by time zone changes)

and equally you will have to say

I was very tired during my first week in Bali because Bali is in Indonesia and I’d travelled through a few time zones before I got there

Not as simple as in English and a bit awkward 😉

jet lag05 1 - Jet lag – demystified. Theory versus practice.

As a matter of fact, it is not a very accurate explanation. If you travel from Spain to Portugal you also experience time zone changes but you are not affected by jet lag symptoms as there is only one hour difference between these two countries and not enough time for the proper jet lag to develop. Factors that affect which symptoms occur and how severely include the number of time zones crossed but also the individual’s age and state of health. Jet lag can occur when sleep-wake patterns are disturbed. It can result from traveling across time zones but also from doing shift work. A person may feel drowsy, tired, irritable, lethargic and slightly disoriented as the production of two main hormones responsible for our sleep – melatonin and cortisol – is disrupted. The more time zones a person crosses in a short period, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. Travelling east causes more problems than travelling west because the body clock has to be advanced, which is more difficult for the majority of humans than delaying it. Lengthening a day is less troublesome than shortening it.

Jet lag

Travelling east causes more problems

In practice – jet lag symptoms very often include:

jet lag02 - Jet lag – demystified. Theory versus practice.
  • sleep disturbances, insomnia, lethargy and fatigue
  • a heavy, aching head
  • irritability, confusion and difficulty focusing
  • mild depression
  • loss of appetite
  • a dizzy, unsettled feeling
  • gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhoea or constipation

Sounds familiar? No, it’s not about a hangover. We are still in Bali and it is still about jet lag.

A total catastrophe if you experience all of them at one go. Not the best way to start your holiday, is it? And if the worst comes to the worst, with all the above, no wonder travellers may lose their belongings, forget simple things or even get robbed.

Do you remember a friend of mine I mentioned in a “Travel Bug” article? So still the same person, admitting to being a ‘crazy traveller’ suffered from an extreme jet lag while she travelled from Europe to south-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Calling herself crazy would be reasonable enough knowing she covered all these regions and countries in a… month! You can’t imagine better circumstances to develop a perfect jet lag! While blogging about her trip she said: “Not only am I having most of the symptoms but I also look like a zombie most of the time. I haven’t had a single drop of alcohol but feel as if I had a terrible hangover. Everybody else around me is sleeping so why can’t I” ?

So remember and bear in mind that travelling is not always a bed of roses. Speaking of bed in this context – it can bring you nothing but misery and – surprise, surprise – it has nothing to do with your sex life 🙂

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