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Why is Jet-Lag Worse Flying East?

Why is Jet-Lag Worse Flying East?
by Bernard Murphy on 08-18-2016 at 7:00 am

Anyone who travels long distances frequently is painfully familiar with this problem, but you may be wondering  why I am mentioning it in this forum. The American Institute of Physics has a Chaos journal which looks at interdisciplinary problems in non-linear dynamics and recently published an article on just this topic.

There are cells in brain’s Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which regulate the body’s circadian rhythms and therefore are a candidate for the source of the problem. This rhythm is governed by oscillator cells which individually might oscillate at different frequencies, but which collectively tend to sync up to a period around 24.5 hours in the absence of external influences.

University of Maryland researchers developed a non-linear mathematical system for a group of oscillators, which they were able to reduce to a single equation to determine how the grouped oscillation would respond to sudden changes through multiple time-zones (which affects daylight hours, a principal component in governing synchronization of oscillations).

They discovered that the fact that the natural period is slightly longer than a day is significant. Remember this is a non-linear model so small deviations can quickly amplify. In particular, they found that this 30-minute difference when added to a west to east (but not east to west) change of multiple time-zones can cause significant delay in oscillations re-synchronizing with the diurnal cycle at the destination.

So now you know. The reason you have terrible jetlag is that your brain is chaotic. You can read more HERE.

More articles by Bernard…

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