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Patient education: Jet lag (The Basics)

Patient education: Jet lag (The Basics)

What is jet lag? — Jet lag is a condition that causes sleep problems, tiredness, and other symptoms. It happens in people who fly across several time zones, especially when they fly east. The more time zones a person crosses, the more likely they are to get jet lag.

Jet lag gets better on its own as a person adjusts to the new time zone. But this can take several days. The farther from home a person is, the longer it takes to get over jet lag.

What are the symptoms of jet lag? — The symptoms include:

Sleep problems, such as problems falling or staying asleep

Feeling tired or sleepy in the daytime

Having trouble thinking, concentrating, or doing normal activities

Stomach problems, such as constipation

Feeling sick or having less energy than normal

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — If you think you had jet lag in the past, talk to your doctor or nurse before going on a long airline flight. They can help you figure out ways to avoid jet lag.

How can I prevent jet lag? — Here are a few things you can try:

Stay awake and go to sleep at certain times. This can help your body adjust to the new time zone. For example, you can:

Stay up until it's dark if you fly west – Only go to sleep when it gets dark. If you go sightseeing, try to do it during the day.

Avoid bright morning light if you fly east – Go outside as much as possible in the afternoon. If you go sightseeing outdoors, try to do it in the afternoon until your body adjusts to the new time zone.

Eat meals at mealtime in the new time zone – For example, if you normally eat lunch at noon, eat at noon in the new time zone (not noon at home).

Get some exercise, but not right before you are supposed to go to sleep.

Can supplements or medicines help with jet lag? — Yes. A supplement called "melatonin" can help with sleep problems from jet lag when you fly east. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally made by a gland in the brain. Taking extra melatonin can help your body adjust to a new time zone. You can buy melatonin pills in a store or pharmacy without a prescription. The usual dose is 5 milligrams after dark each night, about half an hour before you want to go to sleep.

If you want to try melatonin, tell your doctor or nurse. They can tell you if it is safe for you. It's important to tell your doctor or nurse about all medicines and supplements you take, including over-the-counter medicines.

You should start taking melatonin the night you arrive, at bedtime (table 1). You can take melatonin for up to 5 nights in the new time zone. After that, you are not likely to need it.

Only adults should take melatonin. Doctors don't know if it helps with jet lag in children. Avoid drinking alcohol while you are taking melatonin.

Does melatonin cause side effects? — Some people have side effects from melatonin. These can include:

Feeling sleepy in the daytime

Dizziness or confusion


Loss of appetite, nausea, and other stomach problems

But these side effects are very similar to jet lag. So doctors are not sure if they are really side effects of melatonin or just jet lag symptoms.

More on this topic

Patient education: Constipation in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Daytime sleepiness (The Basics)
Patient education: Insomnia (The Basics)
Patient education: Staying healthy when you travel (The Basics)

Patient education: General travel advice (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Insomnia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Insomnia treatments (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 02, 2023.
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