For frequent fliers and international travelers, the symptoms of jet lag are
all too familiar. Disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating
and functioning, and even stomach problems are a fact of life.
Fortunately, while you may not be able to eliminate jet lag altogether if
you’re traveling across multiple time zones, you can lessen its effects with
some simple strategies. First, it helps to understand what jet lag is and what
causes it. Then, WebMD offers 11 ways to cope with jet lag and still enjoy your
Sleep has never been easy for Leslie Partridge Sachs, a dancer,
choreographer, and mother of two young girls who lives in Garrison, N.Y. Even
as a child, she says, "I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep." Once
she became a mother, her insomnia worsened.
"I sleep very lightly -- I hear my daughters even if they turn over in bed.
And most mornings I wake up at 3:30 or 4 and can’t get back to sleep." Her
average night’s shut-eye of four to five hours affects her mood. "I feel
Jet lag can occur any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones.
The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to be sleepy and
sluggish -- and the longer and more intense the symptoms are likely to be.
Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder, but not temporary enough for many
travelers. If you’re flying from San Francisco to Rome for a 10-day trip, for
example, it may take six to nine days to fully recover. That’s because it can
take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to adjust to the
local time. If you’re traveling east to west, from Rome to San Francisco, jet
lag could last four to five days -- about half the number of time zones
crossed. Jet lag is generally worse when you “lose time” traveling west
If you’re an older adult, jet lag may hit you harder and recovery may take
What Causes Jet Lag?
Jet lag happens because rapid travel throws off our circadian rhythm -- the
biological clock that helps control when we wake and fall asleep. “Cues such as
light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our
circadian rhythm,” says Allison T. Siebern, PhD, a fellow in the Insomnia and
Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine
Center. “When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock
and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get on the rhythm
of the new time zone.”
Other aspects of air travel can aggravate the problem. A study published in
the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that air cabins
pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen in the blood, making passengers feel
uncomfortable and dehydrated. And people don’t move around as much as usual on
an airplane. “These can increase symptoms of jet lag and further disrupt your
circadian rhythm from re-synchronizing,” says Siebern.
11 Tips for Dealing With Jet Lag
Some of these strategies may help prevent or ease jet lag:
1. Simulate your new schedule before you leave.
“If you’re traveling east, start moving your bedtime earlier,” says Avelino
Verceles, MD, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of
Medicine and director of the school’s sleep medicine fellowship. “Shift it a
half-hour earlier each night for several nights before you leave.”
If you’re traveling west, do the opposite. You can also try moving your
mealtimes closer to the time you’ll be taking them at your destination.