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eating on a plane imageJet lag is a sleep problem. It happens when a person travels across multiple time zones. It can cause sleepiness, tiredness, headaches, and other symptoms. Take some steps to prevent jet lag from ruining your next trip.

What Causes Jet Lag

Your body has in internal clock. It helps determine when you sleep and wake. When you fly across time zones, your internal clock gets out of sync with your new location. Jet lag may cause:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Tiredness
  • Problems focusing
  • Sleeping problems at night
  • Weakness
  • Clumsiness
  • Headache
  • Belly ache, lack of hunger

Jet lag has a biological cause. Knowing the cause can help you know how to prevent it.

Stay One Step Ahead of Jet Lag

Plan ahead for jet lag. Try these steps before your next big trip.

Get Lots of Rest

Preparing for a vacation or business trip is a busy time. There is often a flurry of last minute errands, phone calls, and packing. If you start your trip tired, you may not get back on track. Being tired is not a fun way to spend vacation or be successful at business. Be sure to:

  • Get plenty of rest before take-off.
  • Try getting a head start on the time change. Do this for several days before your trip:
    • Stay up an hour later (if you are traveling west), or
    • Go to bed an hour earlier (if you are traveling east).

Hydrate

Before and during your flight, drink lots of fluids. Choose non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages, since caffeine and alcohol can affect sleep. Dehydration can make sleepiness and tiredness worse.

Plan Ahead

If you are travelling across many time zones, plan for jet lag. Keep the schedule light for the first 2 days of your trip. Give yourself time to recover. If you can, choose a flight that arrives at your destination in the early evening. Then, try to stay up until 10 pm local time. This will help your internal clock adjust to the new time zone.

On Arrival

After you arrive, take steps to help with jet lag symptoms.

Get on Schedule

Adjust your daily routine to fit the new time zone. Even if you feel tired during the day, try not to sleep. If you must nap, limit it to no more than 2 hours.

Get Outside

Get outdoors into natural light. Sunlight will help your internal clock adjust more quickly.

Consider Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Your body produces melatonin based on amount of light you are exposed to.

A melatonin supplement may help jet lag. However, it can interact with certain medicines. Talk to your doctor if you consider taking it.

When you travel, you may want to wear a sleeping mask when you sleep. The darkness may help your body make more melatonin too.

Get Some Sleep

It can be hard to sleep in a new location. New and unfamiliar noises can keep you awake even if you are very tired. Try some white noise: a fan, air conditioner, or even a radio on static. This can block out those unfamiliar noises and help you sleep. You can also download an app on your phone or tablet.

Jet lag is hard to avoid when you travel over many time zones. However, a few simple steps can help reduce the effects.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
http://www.aasmnet.org

National Sleep Foundation
https://sleepfoundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Better Sleep Council of Canada
http://www.bettersleep.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Jet lag. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/jet-lag. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Jet lag and sleep. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/travel-and-sleep/jet-lag. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Jet lag. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/jet-lag. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Melatonin. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. https://www.ebsco.com/products/research-databases/natural-alternative-treatments . Accessed October 27, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/27/2021