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Jet Lag: Causes, Symptoms, & Prevention Tips | Sleep Reset

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What to Do if You Have Jet Lag

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Jet lag can ruin even the strictest sleep schedules. If you like to travel, you’ve likely dealt with jet lag at some point in your life. Fortunately, its effects are usually temporary. Still, it’s a good idea to get back to your regular sleep schedule after suffering from jet lag, so you don’t develop any long-term sleep problems.

If you have jet lag, there are solutions for dealing with the symptoms and getting back on track. In this article, we’ll talk about jet lag causes and symptoms, how you can treat it, and what you can do to minimize its effects. Read on to learn more.

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What Is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that occurs when you travel across multiple time zones in a short period. Jet lag will throw off your internal clock, causing your sleep schedule to be disrupted. Your body will still be in step with the time zone you left, so the new time zone may cause your internal clock to be lagged. The more time zones you cross, the greater the likelihood you’ll experience jet lag.

Though jet lag is temporary, its symptoms can bother you for weeks if you don’t make the attempt to readjust your internal clock. It’s relatively unlikely that you’ll experience jet lag unless you travel across at least two time zones (usually more), though your experience may vary.

Common Symptoms

Jet lag can cause several unpleasant or irritating symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty sleeping: You may find it hard to fall asleep or wake up at the right time. You may also experience restless sleep when you’re jet lagged.
  • Daytime sleepiness: If you’re jet lagged, you may find you’re drowsy and tired during the day.
  • Trouble concentrating: Your shift in sleep may cause you to have trouble paying attention or focusing on things. It may also affect your memory.
  • Mood changes: If you’re jet lagged, you may feel more irritable or depressed
  • Stomach problems: Jet lag can disrupt your digestion, causing constipation, upset stomach, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite

Typically, your jet lag symptoms will worsen the further you travel. The general rule of thumb says that each time zone crossed requires one to two days to recover from, although some people may have symptoms for much longer than this.

Jet lag may not present itself immediately, and you may find yourself experiencing symptoms a few days after arrival.

Common Causes

There are a variety of factors that can lead someone to feel jet lagged. Some people may not get jet lagged or their symptoms may be milder than others. 

These are some of the common causes of jet lag:

  • Time zones: The more time zones you cross, the more likely it is that you’ll get jet lag. This is especially the case if you cross three time zones or more. You may find symptoms are worse the more time zones you cross.
  • The direction of travel: Jet lag can sometimes be worse on flights that travel east. This is because flying east advances your internal clock, whereas flying west delays it. Delays are usually easier to adjust to. If you’re flying north to south and not crossing multiple time zones, jet lag is unlikely.
  • Other travel details: Other factors of your trip that can affect jet lag severity include total distance, how long you’ll be at your destination, daylight hours at your destination, and number of flight segments and layover time.
  • Destination arrival time: If you arrive at your destination in the afternoon, it may be easier to recover from jet lag than if you arrive in the morning after an overnight or red-eye flight.
  • Stress: Stress can make travel difficult and make jet lag symptoms worse.
  • Disrupted sleep schedule: If you’ve been having trouble sleeping before your flight, you may have a higher likelihood of getting jet lagged.
  • Alcohol and caffeine: While some people like to have alcohol or caffeine during their flight, it can actually affect your sleep schedule. You may want to pass on these if you’re crossing multiple time zones
  • Air cabin pressure: Environmental factors such as air cabin pressure may contribute to jet lag.
  • Dehydration: Be sure to drink enough water during your flight. Dehydration can make jet lag symptoms harder to cope with.

Even with all of these considerations, some people simply won’t experience jet lag as badly as others. The severity of symptoms can vary based on the individual, so these factors may or may not apply to you.

How It Relates to Circadian Rhythm

Jet lag can be directly linked to your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm acts as your internal clock, regulating your sleep and wake cycles, letting your body and mind know when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to be alert.

Circadian rhythms are largely determined by sunlight. That’s why it’s normal for humans to feel tired at night and feel awake during the day. When you’re crossing multiple time zones, your body and circadian rhythm will be under the impression that you’re still in your regular time zone.

Essentially, crossing multiple time zones will disrupt your normal rhythms, which will mean you’ll be ready for bed when it’s morning or the middle of the day, or you’ll be alert during the evening and night hours.

Is It the Same as Travel Fatigue?

When you travel for a long time, you’re bound to feel at least a little tired, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have jet lag. Jet lag is sometimes mistaken for travel fatigue. Travel fatigue causes you to feel tired and possibly experience headaches from a long day of travel. 

It’s very hard to get quality sleep and feel rested on an airplane. There are a number of factors that contribute to travel fatigue, but unlike with jet lag, your circadian rhythm isn’t getting disrupted.

The easiest way to tell the difference between travel fatigue and jet lag is to see how long your symptoms persist. If you get a good night of sleep, your travel fatigue will usually dissipate within a day. Jet lag can last for several days and sometimes weeks. It is possible to have jet lag and travel fatigue at the same time, but they’re definitely not the same thing.

Prevention Tips

Knowing what jet lag is and the causes are helpful, but no one wants to deal with jet lag symptoms. If you want to make sure your jet lag symptoms are as mild as possible and easier to handle, there are various preventative measures you can take. Let’s look at those.

  • Change your sleep schedule ahead of time: In the weeks leading up to your travels, you can gradually adjust your sleep schedule to match your destination. This can help your mind and body adjust to the time change faster when you get there. If you’re traveling east, go to bed an hour earlier for a few nights, and if you’re going west, go to bed one hour later for a few nights.
  • Make sure you’re well rested: If you’re already dealing with poor sleep and you’re feeling sleep deprived when you depart, it will only make the symptoms of jet lag worse. Be sure to get plenty of quality sleep before your trip. If you haven’t been getting good quality sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene so you can get on the right track.
  • Book extra days: If you want to make the most of your trip, it’s not a bad idea to book a few extra days to let your body get used to the time change. That way you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the main part of your trip, and you can dedicate those extra days to adjusting to the time change.
  • Try getting the right level of light exposure: It’s a good idea to use sunlight to your advantage and try to get your circadian rhythm to sync up with the new daylight hours. If you travel west, you can try to get more daylight in the evening, and if you travel east, you can try to get more daylight in the morning. Keep in mind that traveling more than eight time zones will have special considerations, since evening and morning light will be switched. If you travel east, try to avoid morning light and get more evening light. Do the opposite if you travel west. You can experiment with your light exposure until your body adjusts to the new time zone.
  • Be sure to drink water: Remember, dehydration can contribute to jet lag symptoms and make them worse. Drink water throughout your travels and hydrate when you’re working through your jet lag.
  • Sleep or stay awake on the plane: If you’re on the plane, try to line up your sleep-wake cycle with your destination — meaning if it’s daytime at your destination, stay awake, and if it’s night, try to get some sleep.
  • Sync up with the new time zone: Just like on the plane, once you reach your destination, try to sync up with the new daylight and nighttime hours. Avoid going to sleep or napping until dark, and don’t stay up through the night.

Though there’s no surefire way to stop jet lag altogether, taking the right measures can make it easier to deal with and adjust to your new time zone.

Start Sleeping Better Today!

If you’re recovering from jet lag or if you have an upcoming trip that crosses multiple time zones, let Sleep Reset help. Sleep Reset creates customized sleep solutions with a dedicated sleep coach. Your plan is personalized for your lifestyle and sleep concerns. If you have an upcoming trip, your coach can adjust your plan to make sure you’re getting quality sleep beforehand and taking the right preventive measures to reduce jet lag effects. When you’re dealing with the symptoms, your program can help you get back on track.

But Sleep Reset isn’t just for jet lag! Sleep Reset is a solution for anyone who wants to get deeper sleep, wake up feeling well rested, and form healthy, long-lasting sleep habits. Sleep Reset is an all-natural, no-pills solution, so there are no side effects to worry about.

Take our sleep assessment today to find out how Sleep Reset can help you get better sleep.