Jet lag 

Introduction 

Jet lag occurs when your body clock is disrupted after crossing time zones 

Who gets jet lag?

People of all ages can get jet lag, but it's more common in people over 60 years of age.

Jet lag is thought to be less common in babies and children. However, there's not enough evidence to confirm exactly how many babies and children may be affected. 

Travel health

Advice for people travelling abroad, including malaria, travel vaccinations, EHIC, travel insurance, DVT and jet lag

Jet lag is a feeling of tiredness and confusion after a long aircraft journey.

It's the result of your body finding it difficult to adjust to a new time zone.

Jet lag can disturb your sleep pattern and make you feel drowsy and lethargic (lacking in energy).

The more time zones you cross during a long-haul flight, the more severe jet lag can become.

Read more about the symptoms of jet lag.

What causes jet lag?

The world is divided into 24 different time zones. Your body's natural 24-hour clock (circadian rhythm) is disrupted after crossing time zones.

Your body clock controls your sleeping and waking pattern. It also affects:

  • appetite
  • digestion
  • bowel habits
  • urine production
  • body temperature
  • blood pressure

Your body clock is set to your local time so that you feel hungry in the morning and sleepy in the evening. If you travel across time zones, it can take a while for your body clock to adjust to a new daily routine.

Read more about the causes of jet lag.

Treating jet lag

Jet lag can be a problem if you frequently fly long distances. However, it doesn't usually cause any serious or long-term health problems.

In most cases, the symptoms pass after a few days without the need for treatment. The advice below will help minimise the effects of jet lag.

When you arrive at your destination:

  • establish a new routine – eat and sleep at the correct times for your new time zone, not at the time you usually eat and sleep at home
  • avoid napping as soon as you arrive – even if you're tired after a long flight, staying active until the correct time to sleep will help your body adjust quicker
  • spend time outdoors – natural light will help your body adjust to a new routine

Seek advice from your GP or pharmacist before travelling if you take medication at specific times of the day, such as oral contraceptives or insulin.

Read more about treating jet lag.

Preventing jet lag

It's not possible to prevent jet lag, but there are things you can do to reduce its effects.

For example, make sure you're well hydrated before flying and drink plenty of fluid (but not alcohol) during the flight. Try to rest during the flight by taking short naps.

Read more about preventing jet lag

Page last reviewed: 06/05/2014

Next review due: 06/05/2016

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