What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a disturbance to a person's body clock. Flying through three or more different time zones upsets the 24-hour circadian rhythms to which the body is biologically accustomed. These rhythms help tell our bodies when we should be asleep and when we should be awake. Jet lag means that your body is out of synchronization with the new time zone of your destination.

Other factors during a flight that may cause jet lag include long periods of sitting, oxygen deficiency, decreased air pressure in the cabin, warm cabin temperature, and low humidity.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

The most common symptoms of jet lag are fatigue, digestive problems, pronounced reaction to alcohol, change in mood and/or judgment, and general difficulty in functioning.

What can I do to minimize jet lag?

The following are preventive measures that you can take to reduce the severity of your jet lag:

Readjust your sleep schedule

  • Before traveling from east to west, go to bed later and wake up later for several days before departure.
  • Before traveling from west to east, go to bed earlier and wake up earlier for several days before departure.
  • Get a good night's sleep the evening before your flight.

Also, when crossing four or more time zones, it’s a good idea to schedule layovers instead of straight-through flights.

Exercise in your seat or stand and move about the cabin

Suggested exercises include:

  • Breathing deeply
  • Rolling your feet
  • Raising your knees
  • Turning your head
  • Swinging your arms overhead
  • Contracting (tensing) and relaxing your leg muscles

More tips to minimize the effects of jet lag

  • Before you leave, gradually adjust your meal schedule to the new time zone you’ll be in, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try to avoid tension and stress before departure.
  • Avoid taking sleeping pills, if possible.
  • Do not overeat during the flight, and keep alcohol intake to a minimum.
  • When you arrive at your destination, get some sunlight to help yourself adjust to your new surroundings.
  • After you arrive, get plenty of sleep, eat only food you are used to at first, and drink plenty of clear bottled fluids until the jet lag has resolved.

Does taking melatonin work for jet lag?

There has been interest in melatonin since it does appear to affect the body clock of many animals. However, its use is not recommended. Despite its widespread availability, there is no evidence that melatonin works, and a record of safety has not been established.


© Copyright 1995-2016 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/20/2016...#12781