Jet Lag

Jet lag is a common but short-lived sleep problem you can get after traveling across more than three time zones. Jet lag can make you feel out of sorts due to an abrupt change in your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Symptoms include headaches and difficulty sleeping (insomnia).


What is jet lag?

Jet lag describes common sleep problems (like insomnia) and other symptoms you may experience after traveling a long distance quickly. When you travel across more than three time zones by plane, your body’s “internal clock” (or circadian rhythm) needs time to adjust to the new sleep and wake cycles at your destination.

Your body will adjust to this change in environment. But it takes time. You can think of jet lag symptoms as “growing pains” while your body gets used to your new surroundings. Jet lag is a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

Is jet lag worse going east or west?

Medical experts generally agree that flying eastward may cause more severe jet lag symptoms than flying toward the west. Researchers say that’s because your body can adapt more quickly to staying up late than going to bed earlier than usual.

How common is jet lag?

Jet lag is a common issue many people experience when traveling. But people can experience jet lag in different ways and to varying degrees. Some people (especially children) may not notice any problems adapting to a new time zone.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

Jet lag symptoms, from insomnia to upset stomach
Jet lag describes common sleep problems (like insomnia) and other symptoms you may experience after traveling a long distance quickly.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

Jet lag symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (insomnia).
  • Drowsiness during the day.
  • Headaches.
  • Lack of focus or concentration.
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue).
  • A general feeling of being “off” or not like yourself.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Mood changes, like irritability.

What does jet lag feel like?

Jet lag affects people differently. Overall, you can expect the condition to be more severe when you fly farther. That’s because greater distances require your body to make a bigger adjustment.

If you “lost” several hours during travel, you may have difficulty falling asleep as your body adjusts to a new nighttime schedule (when it’s used to being alert and awake).

On the other hand, if you “gain” several hours during travel, you may get sleepy during daylight hours (when your body would typically be asleep back home).

What causes jet lag?

Jet lag usually happens when you travel by plane three or more time zones away. Jet lag symptoms result from your body’s natural rhythms being out of sync with the day- and nighttime hours of your destination.

Plane travel makes jet lag worse because your body moves much faster than your brain and circadian rhythms can process the time change. Other aspects of travel can also contribute to jet lag and may make symptoms worse:

  • Long periods of sitting on a plane.
  • Lack of oxygen and decreased air pressure in the airplane cabin.
  • Warm cabin temperature and low humidity, which can cause dehydration.


What are the risk factors for developing jet lag?

Jet lag can happen to anyone, but certain factors make getting it more likely. These factors include:

  • Your trip: Many factors about your trip can affect the possibility of jet lag, including the distance, any layovers, how many time zones you cross and which direction you travel.
  • Your arrival time: The time you arrive at your destination can affect how quickly your circadian rhythm can adapt. The light may shift you in the wrong direction.
  • Your age: Some studies have shown that people over the age of 60 experience circadian rhythm changes more frequently.
  • Your sleep before travel: If you get poor sleep before your flight, it can increase your chances of getting jet lag after traveling.
  • Your stress level: If you have significant stress, it can disrupt your mind and body’s natural rhythms. This can make sleep harder to come by.
  • Your use of caffeine or alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can affect your brain in ways that can disrupt your sleep. Stick to water on long flights.

What are the possible complications of jet lag?

Jet lag is typically a short-term issue that goes away after your body’s circadian rhythm has adjusted to the local time. But for frequent flyers — like pilots, flight attendants and business travelers — jet lag can sometimes cause complications.

If your circadian rhythm is consistently out of sync, it can create sleep issues that can lead to insomnia. Other complications may include:


Diagnosis and Tests

How is jet lag diagnosed?

Most people who experience jet lag have minor symptoms. They generally don’t seek medical care. Symptoms usually go away on their own within a few days.

Call a healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your symptoms or feel like your body isn’t adjusting to a new location as it should. If your sleep problems don’t go away or affect your quality of life, your provider may recommend a sleep study. Providers perform this test while you’re sleeping. It evaluates whether your symptoms may be due to a sleep disorder.

Management and Treatment

How do you get over jet lag?

Researchers have yet to uncover a jet lag cure. Still, you can recover from most symptoms on your own. There’s a good chance your symptoms will go away in a few days without any jet lag treatment.

Making healthy choices may help jet lag symptoms go away sooner. After you arrive at your destination:

  • Get some sun: Getting outside during daylight hours can jump-start alertness. Light helps your body recognize it’s time to be awake. Artificial light sources (like a lamp) can offer similar benefits if you can’t get outside.
  • Adjust your sleep-wake schedule: Getting on the sleep-wake schedule at your destination quickly may help with your symptoms.
  • Focus on getting quality sleep: Sleeping on the plane, if you can, may help your body adjust faster to a new time zone. You may want to ask a provider about the benefits and risks of over-the-counter sleep aids, like melatonin. Prescription-strength sleeping pills may have more downsides than benefits when it comes to treating jet lag. Talk with a provider about your needs.
  • Avoid new foods: Choosing foods your body knows how to digest (for a day or two) may help ease any digestive symptoms of jet lag.
  • Drink lots of water: Drinking plenty of water can combat the effects of dehydration after a long flight. Choose bottled water if you have any questions about water safety. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can make you more dehydrated.

Does taking melatonin work for jet lag?

Melatonin isn’t thought to be harmful for jet lag, and while there aren’t any clinical trials, it’s used often. Melatonin is a hormone your body makes naturally to promote sleep. It’s also available as a supplement in various strengths. A healthcare provider can help you understand the pros and cons of taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplement for jet lag, including how it may affect you.


How can you avoid jet lag?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent jet lag completely. No prevention strategy can guarantee you won’t experience the condition. But many steps can help minimize jet lag’s potential impact on you.

Start preparing for schedule changes before you travel

In the days before your trip, slowly adjust your meal schedule to match when you’ll be eating at your destination.

If you’re traveling east to west, go to bed later and wake up later for several days before departure. If you’re traveling from west to east, go to bed earlier and wake up earlier to help your body adjust to new sleep patterns.

Move your body on the plane

Keeping your body moving during your flight may reduce jet lag symptoms. On especially long flights, try to move around the cabin when possible.

You can also do exercises while sitting in your seat. Try:

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

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does jet lag last?

How long jet lag lasts will depend on several factors. These include:

  • How far you traveled.
  • Your body’s unique rhythms.
  • Your overall health.

Many people who experience jet lag feel better a few days after arriving at their destination. For some people, it can take up to one week to feel fully back to themselves.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Call a healthcare provider if jet lag symptoms don’t go away or get worse more than one week after traveling.

You should also reach out to a provider if you have any concerning symptoms that are unlikely to be caused by jet lag, including:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Jet lag is a common problem. People of all ages can experience it while traveling long distances (more than three time zone changes) by plane. You may feel minor to moderate sleep disturbances or other symptoms as your body adjusts to a new sleep-wake cycle at your destination. It’s also possible to have no jet lag symptoms when traveling. Preparing your body for expected routine changes and making healthy choices on your trip may minimize how jet lag impacts you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/12/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Questions 216.444.2538