By Dimitra Lavrakas
Senior Voice Travel Correspondent 

Rejoice Alaskans! Jet lag is strong eastbound, but returning is a dream


October 1, 2019

Alaskans travel for pleasure and often for the necessity of seeing far-flung family, and so jet lag is our constant companion.

But a recent study from the Sleep Cycle Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, looked at more than 1.5 million nights’ worth of sleep data from people who traveled east, meaning forward in time, to the west, or backward in time, and without traversing any time zones (the control group) to take a look at how travel interferes with our sleep. 

Traveling east turns out to have the worst effect on sleep, according to the study, but traveling west appears to be better and even may provide a better quality of sleep and elevated quantity of sleep, and the mood when they woke up appeared to be better.

This is great news for Alaskans traveling west after a vacation or business trip, as they will arrive back home and be able to function well.

On the other hand, the further east people travel, the poorer their quantity of sleep, quality of sleep and wake-up moods become.

Short term, long term

Most travelers seem to sleep fairly well the first night of their trip, but see a marked decline in sleep quality the second night. On day five or six, sleep quality peaks, and their sleep returns to normal around day 10.

Sleep Cycle asked some of the Sleep Cycle Institute panelists for further commentary about jet lag. Australian sleep expert, neuroscientist and health educator Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib said jet lag from vacation travel is unlikely to have any lasting negative effects but can be a serious problem for frequent travelers like airline crew members.

“Long-term jet lag is serious because it’s essentially the same as being chronically sleep-deprived,” she said. “The bodies of chronically jet-lagged individuals can’t function properly because the brain has a difficult time sending the appropriate signals when it’s not running on its normal internal clock. Long-term jet lag is associated with the same health risks as long-term sleep deprivation, including an increased risk of certain cancers, metabolic issues, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Natural sleep expert Dr. Catherine Darley added, “Based on sleep physiology, it makes sense that westward travel is easier, as it is easier to lengthen the circadian rhythm. Not only is mood worse, but people can feel an increase in anger and performance problems.

“It’s important to note that these effects can last for several days and to take that into account when planning. For those people who travel regularly, there are strategies that can decrease the disruption caused by jet lag.”

Sleep Cycle is an intelligent alarm clock computer application that analyzes users’ sleep, records findings and wakes them during their lightest sleep phase so they feel rested and refreshed. It also generates nightly sleep reports, tracks long-term sleep trends, and logs how daily activities impact sleep quality.


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