Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(10):1808

What is jet lag?

Your body has an internal “clock” that controls your temperature, blood pressure, and hormones. When you travel across several time zones in one day, your internal clock can get out of step. This is called jet lag.

Who gets jet lag?

You are more likely to get jet lag when you cross several time zones in one day. Many people get jet lag after crossing at least five time zones. It usually is worse when you travel in an eastward direction. The symptoms might be worse in older people.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

Jet lag has many symptoms. After traveling east, you might have trouble falling asleep at the new bedtime. After traveling west, you might wake up too early in the morning. These sleep problems can make you feel tired and tense. You might have trouble concentrating, and you might feel weak or clumsy.

Jet lag can cause headache and upset stomach. Some people with jet lag don't want to eat. Jet lag usually is worse for the first two days after you arrive, then it gets better.

What can I do to help with jet lag?

To lower your chances of getting jet lag, you should get enough rest before you start traveling. Drink lots of nonalcoholic drinks like water during the flight so you don't get dehydrated.

When you arrive, try to change your daily routine to the new time schedule as soon as possible. This includes meals, sleep, and other activities. You can start your new routine just before you leave for your trip. Get outdoors in natural light as much as you can.

Some people find it helpful to take an over-the-counter pill called melatonin at bedtime when they arrive. If you have epilepsy or take medicine to stop blood clotting, you should not take melatonin.

Even if you follow this advice, you still might get jet lag. Try to plan your schedule so that you do not have too much to do on the first two days after you arrive.

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