7 Strategies to Deal with Jet Lag Symptoms - MedCline

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November 10, 2023 5 min read

Many people associate jet lag with long, international travel, but jet lag can occur when traveling east to west (or vice versa) over just a few time zones. Jet lag symptoms can throw your body out of sync, disrupt your sleep, and leave you feeling disoriented. 

Knowing how to prevent and minimize the effects of jet lag can make your travel plans more enjoyable. Read on for more information about jet lag and our seven strategies for managing time zone shifts. 

What is Jet Lag? 

Jet lag is a short-term sleep disorder that happens when you quickly travel across three time zones or more. It occurs because your circadian rhythm no longer matches the local day-night cycle. 

Typically, your circadian rhythm aligns with the daylight hours in your area. But when you drastically switch geographic locations, your body is no longer in rhythm with the sunrise and sunset. 

When your internal clock isn’t synchronized with the day and night of a 24-hour cycle, jet lag symptoms occur. 

Jet Lag Symptoms

The effect of jet lag can leave you feeling out of sorts and uncomfortable. Common symptoms include the following: 

  • Sleeping issues - You may find it hard to fall asleep at night or wake up earlier than intended. Jet lag can also cause you to wake up frequently and disrupt the quality of your sleep. 
  • Daytime drowsiness - Because your internal clock is off, you may feel sleepy during the day. 
  • Cognitive difficulty - Jet lag can cause brain fog and slow your ability to think, reason, make decisions, focus, and remember information. It can also cause you to have headaches. 
  • Impaired emotional regulation - Similarly, jet lag can affect your mood and lead to irritability. It can also impact ongoing mental health problems
  • Physical fatigue-When your internal clock is out of balance, your body will feel tired and lack energy. 
  • Digestive problems - Jet lag can reduce your appetite and cause stomach issues like constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Jet lag can start as soon as you arrive at your destination, or it can creep in a few days later. While everyone is affected differently, jet lag symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks. 

Jet Lag Remedies

You can do things before, during, and after your flight to prevent and reduce the effects of jet lag. Here are a few tips. 

Rest & Reduce Stress Before Your Trip

Beginning your travels sleep-deprived only makes jet lag worse. Try to get quality sleep for at least a few nights before leaving. Minimize the stress of traveling by packing and planning ahead, so you can feel calm and rested before you fly. 

Make Gradual Adjustments Before You Leave

Before you leave, gradually adjust your sleep-wake schedule to match your destination. Going to bed earlier or later will help nudge your internal clock toward the new time zone. 

Commit to a New Sleep-Wake Schedule

Once you’re at your destination, commit to fully switching to your new sleep-wake schedule. Adjust your clocks and watches to the new time zone and try to stay awake until it’s nighttime at your location. Start timing your meals with the local schedule, as studies have shown that when you eat can also affect your circadian rhythm. 

Be Strategic with Light Exposure

When your exposure to light changes, so does your internal clock. If traveling east, try to go outside and get some morning sunshine to help you adapt to an earlier time zone. Conversely, expose yourself to evening light when traveling west to help you stay up later. 

If traveling across eight time zones or more, your body might confuse morning light for evening light and vice versa. In this case, try to get as much late afternoon sunlight as you can in the first few days of your arrival. 

Stay Hydrated

Long-distance travel can cause dehydration, which also impacts your circadian rhythm. To combat this, drink plenty of water on the plane and after you arrive at your destination. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also advises limiting alcohol and caffeine before and during flights since they can worsen jet lag. 

Get Moving

Once you've settled into your new destination, go for a walk, jog, or attend an exercise class. Working out and moving your body can give you more energy. It can also reduce stress, which has been shown to impact sleep quality

Some studies have also found that timed exercise could also help you align your circadian rhythm. 

Pack Sleep Aids for Quality Sleep

Bringing along sleep aids can help you adjust to your new schedule and minimize jet lag symptoms. This is especially important for people with sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea who rely on sleep aids (mouthguards, positional pillows, etc.). 

Portable sleep aids that can help you get quality sleep include the following: 

  • Eye masks
  • Ear plugs
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • White noise machine
  • Comfortable pillows and blankets

Jet Lag FAQs

Q: What is the Secret Cure for Jet Lag? 

A:  The best way to reduce jet lag symptoms is to get proper light exposure. You'll want to get morning light exposure and avoid evening light when traveling east. You'll do the opposite when traveling west. These light exposure techniques will help you adjust your internal clock to your new time zone. 

Q: How Long Does it Take to Get Over Jet Lag? 

A: Many people who experience the effects of jet lag feel better after a few days at their new location. However, it can take others a few weeks to feel normal again. How long your jet lag will last depends on how far you’ve traveled, your body’s unique rhythm, and your general health. 

Q: Should I Nap When Jet Lagged? 

A: A quick nap can boost energy and help you with the daytime sleepiness that comes with jet lag. Just keep your naps under 30 minutes, and try not to nap later in the day. 

Q: Is Jet Lag Worse Going East or West? 

A: Many people find flying east harder since you “lose” time. Your circadian rhythm might be less confused when traveling west since it prolongs your internal clock to its normal day-night cycle. 

Resources

Suni, Eric, and Alex Dimitriu. "Circadian Rhythm: What It Is, What Shapes It, and Why It's Fundamental to Getting Quality Sleep." Sleep Foundation, 2 Jun. 2023, www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm.

Migala, Jessica. “What Is Brain Fog? A Detailed Scientific Guide on Limited Cognitive Function.” Everyday Health, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/brain-fog/guide/

Walker, William H. 2nd, et al. "Circadian Rhythm Disruption and Mental Health." Translational Psychiatry, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-0694-0.

Duboc, Henri, et al. "Disruption of Circadian Rhythms and Gut Motility: An Overview of Underlying Mechanisms and Associated Pathologies." Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0000000000001333.

Wehrens, Sophie M., et al. "Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System." Current Biology, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.059.

"Jet Lag Disorder." Mayo Clinic, 19 Nov. 2022, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027.

Ungless, Janet. "How Drinking Water Benefits Your Sleep." Sleep.Com, 10 Aug. 2022, www.sleep.com/sleep-health/water-benefits-for-sleep#.

"Air Travel Advice." World Health Organization, 27 Apr. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/air-travel-advice.

Thomas, J. M., et al. "Circadian Rhythm Phase Shifts Caused by Timed Exercise Vary with Chronotype." Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.134270.

Suni, Eric, and Dr. Abhinav Singh. "How to Get Over Jet Lag." Sleep Foundation, 10 Mar. 2023, www.sleepfoundation.org/travel-and-sleep/how-to-get-over-jet-lag.

"Jet Lag." Cleveland Clinic, 13 Jun. 2021, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12781-jet-lag.

"Jet Lag: What It Is and How to Beat It." Medical News Today, 9 Aug. 2021, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165339.