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Is Jet Lag Worse East to West?

Jet lag is something many long-haul business travellers deal with.

If you regularly fly to the far east or the US on business, you’re probably used to the crippling fatigue caused by crossing multiple time-zones. It isn’t pleasant, and it can take several days to adjust, but that’s life.

“Is jet lag worse travelling east rather than west?” This is something many business travellers ask. Those who make long-haul trips regularly already know jet lag travelling west is not as severe, but in this article, we are going to examine why this is the case, along with some jet lag prevention remedies.

Adjusting to a New Time Zone

Merrily skipping through several time zones has a terrible effect on the body’s circadian rhythms. It throws our sleep patterns out of whack and we find it very difficult to adjust. It may be 11 PM in Singapore, but your body think its only 4 PM, so sleep is off the menu. By the time you do get to sleep, it’s nearly 6 AM and you have to get up in 30 minutes for an important client meeting. Not surprisingly, by the time you return home, you’re like a zombie!

The Science Part

A scientific study carried out by researchers at the University of Maryland discovered that our natural circadian cycle is 24.5 hours. That’s only 30 minutes more than a 24-hour day, but the extra time makes a significant difference.

Flying east means we lose time. For example, flying from London to Singapore eats up seven hours from our day. If we catch the non-stop Qantas flight from Heathrow, we leave at 23:55 and arrive in Singapore at 17:15 local time. We have essentially lost a huge chunk of a day.

This is very confusing for the body. If you manage to sleep on the flight, which is not always easy, you won’t feel too tired when you arrive. However, by the time you hit your hotel, it’s time for bed, so you really do need to get some sleep. If you didn’t sleep on the flight, it should be easier (in theory) to sleep at the hotel, but your body might not agree.

Adjustment Time

The Maryland researchers concluded that our bodies need about 1.5 days per time zone to readjust when flying east, compared to less than a day per time zone when flying west. So, flying from London to Singapore means your body needs around 9.5 full days to adjust to the new time-zone. That’s not great if you are only staying a week!

The best way to minimise the effects of jet lag is to spend as much time as you can outside. Exposure to sunlight helps to reset the body’s circadian rhythm. You should also consider taking a daytime flight rather than the red-eye.

Flying in the opposite direction is not as bad. Jet lag travelling west is easier on the body, although it can still take a while to adjust. So, if you have a business trip in LA or New York to look forward to, you should be in better shape – until you return home, that is.