We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
Traveling can be the best thing ever. But jet lag? It’s the worst. Jet lag is a physical condition that happens when your body’s internal clock gets thrown off by a new time zone. Here’s how to prevent jet lag and nip its sleepy symptoms in the bud.
Jet lag fast facts
- Jet lag (aka desynchronosis) can cause headaches, insomnia, drowsiness, mood changes, and an upset stomach.
- Symptoms tend to be worse when heading from west to east (when you go back in time).
- Even frequent fliers can get it.
- You can reduce the symptoms by making some minor changes to your travel and sleep routines.
Yes, jet lag is legit. Symptoms can range from a slight buzzkill to totally debilitating.
Common jet lag symptoms:
Kids tend to shake off jet lag pretty quickly, but adults may need more time to adjust to a new sleep pattern or time zone. Older folks usually have more intense symptoms than younger people. The good news: It’s temporary.
It’s not just for traveling
You don’t need to be leaving on a jet plane to experience jet lag. A shift switch at work or a sudden lifestyle change can also be to blame.
Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour cycle. It plays a major role in jet lag. Your circadian rhythm regulates sleep, hunger, physical function, and body temperature. Disrupting this internal clock has consequences for your brain and body.
Breaking the body clock
External factors like daylight (or the lack thereof) can also play a part in jet lag. Your brain is programmed for your local time zone. A sudden change can put your inner clock on the fritz.
Jet lag can also throw your hormones off their game. That means all basic functions (like eating, walking, focus, and sleep) can take a major hit.
Jet lag symptoms tend to be worse if you’re flying from west to east. That’s because traveling east reduces the number of hours in the day. Going west adds them.
For example, flying from New York to California might mess you up more than going from West Coast to East Coast. Traveling from north to south or vice versa may also cause jet lag.
What about the weather?
A change in daylight hours can also cause jet lag symptoms. A lot of people feel groggy during daylight saving time. Even though it’s only a time change of 1 hour, it can throw a wrench in your internal clock. Rude.
Indulging in a glass of in-flight vino is totally normal. So is reaching for a cup o’ joe before you land. But you should stick to other options if you’re worried about jet lag. Booze and caffeine can aggravate the symptoms, according to World Health Organization.
Caffeine can keep you awake. This makes it harder for your body to bounce back from jet lag. Booze can also do a number on you. Drunk sleep is less magical than sober sleep. Plus, a hangover won’t do your jet lag any favors.
The cabin pressure you experience during a flight can lead to some unpleasant symptoms. That’s because air travel may reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your brain. It can feel a lot like altitude sickness. Low oxygen levels can make you feel especially lethargic.
Sitting like a canned sardine for hours on end can also worsen jet lag symptoms. Plus, it’s pretty hard to doze off while surrounded by strangers. If you’re lucky enough to have room to stretch out, try to catch some Zzz’s. You may be less jet-lagged when you land.
Symptoms of jet lag vary depending on your age, your general health, and the number of time zones you cross. But there are some typical symptoms, including:
- loss of appetite
- mild depression
- an aching, heavy head
- confusion, difficulty concentrating, and irritability
- constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues
There’s no fail-safe treatment for jet lag. But there are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of a major jet lag nightmare.
Lessen the risk
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. That means a balanced diet, a solid sleep schedule, and physical activity.
- Keep any underlying medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, blood clots, or lung disease) under control.
PSA: Talk to your doctor before a long-haul flight if you have a preexisting medical condition.
A good jet defense can be the best lag offense. Here are some prevention tips:
- Don’t take naps until you’re back in a good groove. If you really need a quick snooze, limit it to 20 minutes.
- Get in a little in-flight exercise. Stretch and take a lap around the cabin when you can.
- Pick a flight with an early arrival time, if possible. That way you can hit the hay early and kick-start your new sleep pattern.
- Change your watch to your destination’s time zone before you take off.
- Drink plenty of H2O and steer clear of alcohol and caffeine during the flight.
What to do upon arrival
- Get to bed at a reasonable hour for the local time zone.
- Catch some rays ☀️ as often as you can. Sunlight can help your body adapt to your new time zone.
- Eat light and avoid intense exercise.
Exposure to daylight can affect your circadian rhythms. Some research suggests that wearing sunglasses after long-haul flights can also help. They can block out light and help you get a better rest.
Sometimes jet lag is inevitable. Even though it’s a temporary condition, it can be annoying AF. Simple lifestyle tweaks can help you minimize the symptoms: Remember to stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and booze, and sleep on the plane if you can. ✈️