What is it?
Jet lag is the feeling of tiredness and fatigue that may come with traveling across time zones.
When traveling across time zones, your body's internal clock gets "out of synch." The pineal gland (in the brain) makes melatonin (a hormone) in response to changes in the daylight. This cyclic production of melatonin can regulate several important functions in the body. If you cross time zones, the body's internal clock can easily and slowly reset itself. With airplane travel, several time zones can be quickly crossed, going faster than the speed with which the body's internal clock can reset itself. This may be a bigger problem when time is lost traveling from West to East.
Signs and Symptoms:
There may be many symptoms with jet lag. These include fatigue, daytime drowsiness, headaches, nausea (upset stomach), and not being able to sleep. You may also not be able to do normal activities.
- After the airplane lands, take a brisk walk to get the circulation going again. If possible, get out into the sun. Bright light helps reset the internal rhythm.
- Drink lots of water.
- Take a steam bath or sauna to get rid of any toxins in your body.
- Instead of napping, an early bedtime, close to the local time zone is good.
- Keep your regular exercise routine if you can.
- If possible, fly during the day instead of at night. It is best to arrive at your destination in the early evening, go for a walk, have a light dinner, and get to bed by 11 pm local time.
- Eat a high fiber diet many days before you travel. This can help prevent constipation on a long trip.
- Several days before your trip, set a regular routine. Go to bed and wake up at your normal time. Try to get at least 30 extra minutes of extra sleep a night.
- The following diet has been modified from the Anti-Jet-Lag Diet at the Argonne National Laboratory. The military has used this diet to prevent jet lag in troops moving around the world.
- In general: On days one and three, eat high protein breakfasts and lunches and high carbohydrate vegetable dinners to stimulate the body's active cycle.
- On day two and the day of travel, these lighter eating days with decreased calories will use up the liver's store of carbohydrates and prepare the body's clock for resetting.
- When you begin your flight, change your watch to the time zone of where you are going. If you are going to Europe and it is midnight at your arrival destination and you are scheduled to arrive early in the morning the next day; try to sleep as soon as you get on the plane. Shut your window shade and sleep. Do not eat. If dinner is being served and you eat, your body will think it is 8 pm again. What you do on a plane should mimic what is being done where you are going. If it is daylight where you are going, turn on the overhead light, read, watch the movie, walk around, and stay active. Eat your meals according to the time it is where you are going. Drink plenty of fluids on the flight. Pressurized airplane cabins are dry and your body will be able to fight jet lag better if you are well hydrated.
Sleeping medicine may help you sleep on a long flight. It may also help jet lag symptoms after you arrive at the place you are going.
- Drink plenty of water on the flight but only from sealed water bottles.
- Eat lightly during the flight, especially when crossing several time zones. Food is harder to digest at high altitudes.
- Do not drink alcohol on the airplane. Alcohol will make you more tired and increase fatigue.
- Do not drink liquids that have caffeine in them when flying. Sugar and caffeine make it harder for the body to adjust to time changes. Like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic and causes dehydration on planes because of the low humidity.
- Bring fruit, such as oranges, grapefruit, apples, pear, or pineapple with you on your flight.
- Use earplugs to shut out noise.
- To encourage good blood circulation, walk around the cabin every hour on long flights.
Herbs and Supplements:
Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.
- Phototherapy with bright lights in the early morning may decrease jet lag symptoms.
Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.
Talk to your caregiver if:
- You would like medicine to treat jet lag.
- Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
- You have questions about what you have read in this document.
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
1. Petrie K, Conaglen JV, Thompson L et al: Effect of melatonin on jet lag after long haul flights. BMJ 1989; 298(6675):705-707.
2. Sasaki M: Jet lag syndrome. Nippon Rinsho 1998;56(2):396-403.
Last Updated: 6/4/2018