Jet Lag

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is the tiredness you may feel after flying long distances across several time zones. Rapid travel to a distant time zone disturbs your normal body rhythms.

What is the cause?

Your body has an internal clock that determines when you eat, sleep, and wake up each 24-hour day. When you travel across several time zones, your “day” is longer or shorter than 24 hours. Your body is out of sync with the local time zone. It takes some time for your body rhythms to adjust. While you are adjusting, you may feel jet lag.

Not all jet lags are the same. Flying eastward, which shortens your day, is harder to adjust to than flying westward, which lengthens your day. For example, if you fly from California to New York, you may have trouble sleeping for a few nights because there is a 3 hour time difference and your body is used to going to bed later.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of jet lag may include:

  • Feeling tired during the day trouble sleeping at night, waking early or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Not feeling sharp mentally and having trouble concentrating
  • Feeling irritable
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion or a change in appetite or bowel habits

You may feel the effects of jet lag for a few days after your flight, depending on how many time zones you crossed. In general, the more time zones you cross, the longer it takes to recover.

How can I help prevent jet lag?

Here are things you can do to help reduce the symptoms of jet lag:

  • Try to get plenty of rest before your trip. If you are going to fly east, try going to bed earlier than usual for a few days before the trip. If you are flying west, go to bed later than usual.
  • You may find it easier to adjust to new time zones if you break up a long journey with a stopover partway to your final destination.
  • If you have an important event to attend at your destination, try to get there 2 or 3 days early.
  • Set your watch to the destination time when you are halfway through your flight, so you can start thinking in terms of the new time.
  • Try to arrive at your destination in the evening so that you go to bed at your usual bedtime, or sleep on the plane and plan to arrive at your usual waking time.
  • No matter how tired you are when you arrive, try to stay awake until it is nighttime at your destination. Spend time outside in daylight at your destination. Bright outdoor light will help your body adjust faster than if you spend a lot of time indoors.

Drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine and alcoholic drinks before, during, and after your flight. Use an eye mask and ear plugs to help block light and sound so it may be easier to sleep.

How do I adjust medicines prescribed for a certain hour?

If you are diabetic and use long-acting insulin, you may have to change to regular insulin until you have adjusted to the time, food, and activity of your destination.

You may have to adjust other medicine schedules according to the actual hours between doses rather than the local time at your destination. Ask your healthcare provider about this.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-07
Last reviewed: 2014-10-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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