Scientists used math models to figure out the two-direction anomaly in cases of jet lag recovery.
Tourists and travellers say that they experience less jet lag symptoms when going on an eastward route than a westward route by airplane. Although many have written this claim off as being another trick of the brain, it just may have some reality behind it.
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The vibration of certain brain cells may be responsible for this phenomenon. Circadian rhythms are possible thanks to the neurons in the brain being in synch with one another. This is the cause of jet lag.
Cells within the hypothalamus (which is the part of the brain that deals with circadian rhythms) have daily shifts during which they undergo a turnover. After a speedy movement through many time zones, the brain’s pacemaker is not able to make the necessary adjustment to the novel time zone.
A team of researchers tried to find out whether this east-west dichotomy in jet lag rates was based on mathematical formulas that governed the brain cells. They made some pretty interesting discoveries which were published in the journal Chaos, from AIP Publishing.
Like race cars going around a track, the brain’s cells are constantly engaged in tiny movements. Some of the pacemaker cells make it to the end of the circuit faster than others.
These cells act in a lump and make it to the finish line together though. When there is no control mechanism, these cells tend to make their journey in a haphazard manner and it does not correspond to the span of 24 hours that we humans take for granted.
Without the external signal of sunlight, these circadian rhythms get disturbed. The mathematical models that got constructed by the scientists were based on this scheme.
The dynamics of brain cells were converted to math formulas that were then used to gauge the process of sleep-wake cycles in humans. While the average dude’s circadian rhythm was slightly greater than 24 hours, the small amount of extra time (which was 30 minutes) had a very crucial impact on health and alertness levels.
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This appendix of time span could account for the east-west difference in jet lag recovery among travellers. The model also helped explain why some people are more prone to jet lag than others. The difference between a person’s natural sleep-wake cycle and the 24 hours of alternating night and day, determined how he or she reacted to jet lag.