The Causes of Jet Lag and How to Get Relief — Fast

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Five ways to feel better while traveling

Jet lag is a term used to describe a temporary sleep condition that affects people who travel across multiple time zones. The “lag” happens when your body's internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) is thrown out of whack by changing time zones quickly. Your body's internal clock uses input from sunlight exposure, the rise and fall of your body temperature, and hormone fluctuations to determine when you're supposed to go to sleep and wake up. For instance, a dark room, a falling body temperature, and an increase in your body's production of the hormone melatonin can all make you feel tired.

Jet lag symptoms vary in degree and may include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Concentration problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances, including diarrhea and constipation

Fortunately, there are simple steps that you can take to help minimize jet lag symptoms:

1. Drink Water. Guzzle this calorie-free beverage, and avoid alcohol and caffeine just before and after travel, and especially during your flight, because both substances may disturb your sleep. Staying hydrated combats dry cabin air in a plane, and it may help ease uncomfortable symptoms such as headache and gastrointestinal upset so you can rest more easily.

2. Seek Out Sunshine. Get outside and expose yourself to natural light as much as possible on the first day of your trip. Sunlight is stimulating and tells your body that it's daytime—a.k.a. time to be awake! It prevents your body from producing the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

3. Stay Cool. If you check into a hotel, make sure that the air conditioner and/or heating system are in working order as soon as possible. In order to adjust to your new environment, you’ll want to sleep in the same temperature that you do at home (between 60 and 67 degrees is ideal. How come? A subtle drop in body temperature helps bring on sleep, and when your bedroom is slightly on the cooler side, your body temperature will drop faster.

4. Avoid Naps. Stay up until your usual bedtime to help avoid [sleep_term id="1197"] and other problems. If possible, try to replicate your sleeping schedule in the new environment, even though the “times” have changed.

5. Mimic the Familiar. If you're used to falling asleep to a white noise machine at home, try using the same one in a hotel room. Or, use ear plugs to help drown out the new local sounds that are unfamiliar and potentially distracting.