By Seerat Arora 28 Jun 2024 8 min read

How Long Can Jet Lag Last: Signs and Symptoms

A job in the aviation industry can feel like a dream come true, but it does have its side effects. For aviation professionals like cabin crew and pilots, the feeling of jet lag can be a recurring problem. Hence, it is important for them to understand how long does jet lag last, what causes jet lag, and its symptoms and signs. If managed well, jet lag side effects won’t affect your alertness and ability to perfect your tasks the best you can, while prioritizing safety and efficient duties.

What is Jet Lag?

Our physical being has an internal body clock called the circadian rhythm. When this rhythm is out of sync with the regional time where you are, the feeling of jet lag sets in. This can be a result of traveling multiple time zones in a short while, which can cause an imbalance between the new time zone and your body’s natural sleep cycle.

Your circadian rhythm is responsible for many physiological systems, like hormones, sleep, digestion, and body temperature. Traveling through time zones can lead to misalignments between your body clock and the new environment, which can result in jet lag symptoms.

Jet Lag Symptoms

Jet lag signs and symptoms can be reflected in various cognitive, emotional, and physical ways. It is easier to manage your jet lag recovery time if you have a deep understanding of these symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue and sleepiness: The most reported jet lag symptom is feeling very tired and lethargic, even when you are fully rested.
  • Headaches: Jet lag can cause a constant headache because of the imbalance in your body's schedule.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Disruption of food timings and habits also causes jet lag, and it can lead to indigestion, stomach cramps, and/or change in appetite,

Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms

  • Interrupted concentration: Signs and symptoms of jet lag can also lead to difficulty in focusing and reduce thinking clarity, and this can be a big risk for aviation professionals as their attention to detail is the most valued skill.
  • Memory loss: Your short-term memory can also be affected, which might impact your interactions and performance.
  • Mood Swings and irritability: It can be extremely difficult to maintain professional respect if you are easily irritable or have mood swings.  

Sleep Disturbances

  • Difficulty in falling asleep: When suffering from jet lag, it is common to have trouble falling asleep or keeping asleep in spite of feeling exhausted.
  • Waking up at abrupt timings: You cannot be fully rested with interrupted sleep.
  • Daytime fatigue: Regardless of a proper night’s sleep, jet lag often makes you feel sleepy and drowsy throughout the day.

When your circadian rhythm is out of balance, it is still in the old time zone. The imbalance between your behavior timing in the current time zone and your internal body clock disrupts sleep and other body functions.

There are more symptoms of jet lag, like impaired decision-making and judgment, apathy, and a general feeling of mental and physical discomfort.

Impact of Jet Lag on Aviation Professionals

Jet lag can have a huge impact on the aviation industry. Cabin crew and pilots have to be constantly aware and fit to manage in-flight operations, complicated aircraft systems, and emergencies. Jet lag signs and symptoms can weaken your ability to perform basic tasks efficiently. They can cause:

  • Compromised performance: Some effects of jet lag can cause impaired judgment, distracted mind, and slower response times, leading to reduced job performance.
  • Safety Concerns: Sleepy and drowsy aviation crew are a threat to aviation safety. They can increase the possibility of errors, risking overall safety.

Understanding jet lag causes and identifying the symptoms early on can prevent major side effects caused by jet lag.

Duration of Jet Lag

How long can jet lag last? Having deep knowledge about jet lag recovery time is important for aviation professionals who are constantly in the air. Usually, the feeling of jet lag lasts about a couple of days to around 10 days. Many factors influence the duration, like:

Number of Time Zones crossed

Generally, it takes your body around 1 to 1.5 days to adjust to each time zone you cross. That means if you cross 3 time zones, it can take 3 to 4.5 days for your body to recover from jet lag. 

Travel Direction

If you travel towards the East, you may feel more critical jet lag symptoms than traveling towards the West. This happens because your body will be able to adjust to a longer day when traveling West faster than to shorter days towards the East. 

Personal Factors

How long does jet lag last? Some people will feel jet lag more than others due to their sleeping habits, age, and overall fitness. For example, older people may find it tougher to cope with jet lag symptoms than younger ones due to the different ages of their circadian rhythms. 

Mostly, you will start feeling better when a few days pass by at your destination. However, some people may experience the jet lag side effects for a week or even more to start feeling back to themselves. 

However, you should remember jet lag is temporary, and you will eventually feel completely normal in the new time zone. Following some basic tips, you can cope with jet lag and not let it affect you much.

Causes of Jet Lag

What causes jet lag? The main reason behind jet lag is the imbalance in your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock is responsible for the sleep cycle). Crossing multiple time zones in a short duration causes disruption in the natural rhythm with the local time zone.

There are more factors involved in jet lag causes, including:

  • Cabin Pressure and dehydration: When flying at high altitudes, the cabin pressure decreases, leading to lower oxygen levels. This can cause extreme dehydration and tougher jet lag symptoms.
  • Importance of physical activity: Being inside a plane for a long period of time means decreased physical activity and can lead to a disrupted circadian rhythm.
  • Irregular meal times: It is utterly important to have a proper eating schedule because if you eat at unruly times, it can also contribute to symptoms of jet lag.

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Coping with Jet Lag

To figure out a cure for jet lag, you have to implement well-planned pre-takeoff, in-flight, and post-arrival methods to adjust your internal body clock with the time immediately.

Start adjusting your sleep a few days before your trip, drink plenty of water, limit caffeine and alcohol, and do some light exercise. Melatonin and other supplements may help regulate your sleep-wake cycle but consult with your healthcare provider first.

An in-depth understanding of the duration, symptoms, coping methods, and jet lag causes can help you better manage your jet lag and still perform your best as an aviation professional.

Seek Medical Advice When Needed

There are times when you have put in your best effort but the jet lag symptoms are still persistent and hindering your job responsibilities and performance. After understanding how long does jet lag last, it’s important to accept you need to seek professional medical advice. 

Jet lag signs and symptoms that are constant and interrupting your functional abilities should be reported and shown to a healthcare professional. They can help by prescribing sleep medications or other treatments they may deem fit for your jet lag recovery time.

Side Effects of Jet Lag

Other than the regular symptoms, there are some potential jet lag side effects that can occur:

  1. Impaired cognitive function: A disrupted circadian rhythm can be a cause of impaired concentration, decision-making, and memory. 
  2. Effects on the immune system: Jet lag can have a temporary negative impact on your immune system, making you vulnerable to diseases.
  3. Higher accident risk: Impaired cognitive function and drowsiness can lead to more chances of accidents, especially in the aviation industry which demands awareness and alertness.
  4. Mood swings: A disrupted sleep cycle leads to involuntary mood changes, like feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed. 
  5. Gastritis and other digestive issues: Our digestive system is the first to get affected when there’s a change in schedule. You can feel nauseous, constipated, experience diarrhea, or a reduced appetite.

It is essential that you accept these effects to be able to overcome them. You should prioritize rest, drink plenty of fluids, and seek medical advice if needed. 

Jet Lag and Mental Health

Studies show that jet lag directly impacts your mental health. Evidence has shown that jet lag can worsen the already existing mental health issues, like anxiety and mood disorders. 

Even the hormones are affected when the circadian rhythm is disrupted, especially cortisol and melatonin, which are responsible for regulated sleep and mood systems. Such a hormonal imbalance can cause further problems, like anxiety, depression, irritability, and other mental illnesses. 

As an aviation professional, you should be aware of the impact of jet lag on your physical and mental health and also seek help if required. Some practices can include following a healthy lifestyle, stress management, or talking to a professional in case the signs and symptoms of jet lag are persistent. 

Jet Lag and Physical Performance

If you are a professional whose work depends on physical performance, the feeling of jet lag might impact your ability to perform your best. 

Drowsiness, disturbed sleep patterns, and cognitive impairment can affect your physical performance and condition. Moreover, the imbalance in hormonal systems (like growth hormone and testosterone) might also slow down muscle recovery. 

When you manage your jet lag with well-planned strategies by maintaining a constant schedule, prioritizing rest, and making melatonin supplements after consulting a healthcare professional, you can still have your peak performance and abilities. 

Conclusion

Aviation professionals face jet lag very often, but once you understand what causes jet lag, its symptoms, and duration, and how long can jet lag last, you’ll be able to better manage your alertness and other cognitive systems. 

When experiencing signs and symptoms of jet lag, you must prioritize your sleep, drink plenty of water, and perform some regular light exercise to maintain your capabilities to perform as an exceptional aviation professional. 

By taking such proactive steps, you can easily manage your jet lag and ensure a fit and well-equipped body to take on the tasks of the aviation world while maintaining your competitive edge. 

Adapting is a major part of pilot jobs - you should constantly stay informed about the jet lag symptoms, causes, and coping strategies to avoid the side effects and impact it has on your daily activities. So, take this problem head-on and soar the skies!

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