Reentrainment of the circadian pacemaker during jet lag: East-west asymmetry and the effects of north-south travel

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45 Scopus citations


The normal alignment of circadian rhythms with the 24-h light-dark cycle is disrupted after rapid travel between home and destination time zones, leading to sleep problems, indigestion, and other symptoms collectively known as jet lag. Using mathematical and computational analysis, we study the process of reentrainment to the light-dark cycle of the destination time zone in a model of the human circadian pacemaker. We calculate the reentrainment time for travel between any two points on the globe at any time of the day and year. We construct one-dimensional entrainment maps to explain several properties of jet lag, such as why most people experience worse jet lag after traveling east than west. We show that this east-west asymmetry depends on the endogenous period of the traveler's circadian clock as well as daylength. Thus the critical factor is not simply whether the endogenous period is greater than or less than 24 h as is commonly assumed. We show that the unstable fixed point of an entrainment map determines whether a traveler reentrains through phase advances or phase delays, providing an understanding of the threshold that separates orthodromic and antidromic modes of reentrainment. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that jet lag only occurs after east-west travel across multiple time zones, we predict that the change in daylength encountered during north-south travel can cause jet lag even when no time zones are crossed. Our techniques could be used to provide advice to travelers on how to minimize jet lag on trips involving multiple destinations and a combination of transmeridian and translatitudinal travel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-285
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
StatePublished - Jan 21 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


  • Biological rhythms
  • Circadian oscillator
  • Entrainment
  • Light-dark cycles
  • Poincaré map
  • Translatitudinal travel


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