Jet lag in adults Jet lag can make you feel exhausted and spoil the first few days of a holiday or business trip. There are some simple self-help strategies that can help you cope with jet lag and feel better

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Patient information from BMJ

Last published: Dec 02, 2016

Jet lag in adults

Jet lag can make you feel exhausted and spoil the first few days of a holiday or

business trip. There are some simple self-help strategies that can help you cope

with jet lag and feel better. A treatment called melatonin may also help.

We've looked at the best and most up-to-date research to produce this information.

You can use it to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are right for you.

Why do people get jet lag?

Jet lag is a side effect of long-distance air travel. When you travel by plane between

different time zones, your body clock gets left behind in the place where you started. It

can take a few days to catch up with you in your new time zone. So, for a while, your

body tries to act as if you're still in the time zone of the place you travelled from. You

may feel wide awake at night and sleepy during the day.

Your body clock is driven by daylight and a hormone in your brain called melatonin.

Melatonin tells you when to sleep. Your body starts to make melatonin when it gets dark

outside, and it stops when it gets light.

In general, the more time zones you cross, the worse your jet lag. For example, a flight

from London to Los Angeles crosses eight time zones. This means the time in Los Angeles

is eight hours behind the time in London. If you arrive in Los Angeles at 6 p.m., your body

thinks it's 2 a.m.

As a rule, flying east seems to cause more problems for most people than flying west.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is tiredness, which can be severe. You might also have trouble

sleeping and concentrating. And you may stop eating properly, have an upset stomach,

and feel generally unwell.

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What treatments work?

Jet lag gets better on its own after a few days. Some medicines can help you feel better

faster. There are also some things you can try before and during your trip to minimise

jet lag.

Things you can do for yourself

To help prevent jet lag

There are things you can do before your trip and during your flight that may help prevent

or lessen jet lag.

Your exposure to natural light plays a big role in helping you adjust to a new time

zone. Before your trip, you might wear sunglasses to restrict your exposure to daylight

when it would be dark at your destination. You might also try to go out in the daylight

at times when it would be light at your destination.

A few days before your trip, try to adjust your sleep and meal schedule to more

closely match the schedule you will have at your destination.

Make sure you are well rested before the start of your trip.

During the flight, drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine.

Avoid sleeping during the flight unless it is night time at your destination.

If your trip is short (three days or less), you might try to keep your schedule in the

new time zone as close to your home schedule as possible, to avoid jet lag when

you return. However, this may not be practical if you are crossing several time zones,

or travelling for business.

To help get rid of jet lag

Once you've arrived at your destination, there are things you can try to cope with your

jet lag and feel better faster.

Avoid caffeine after midday at your destination, where it might interfere with sleep.

Stay awake until it gets dark after a long trip going west. You might also try to book

a flight that arrives at your destination at night.

Get up when it gets light after a long trip going east. It may also help to be outdoors

in sunlight during the afternoon.

Eat small meals at the right mealtimes for your destination.

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Jet lag in adults

Take some light exercise, such as walking or sightseeing, during daylight. But

remember that exercising just before bedtime can sometimes make it harder to



If your jet lag is more severe, taking melatonin tablets for a few days may help you feel

better faster. The melatonin in the tablets is similar to the melatonin your body makes at

night to help you sleep. You take these tablets when it's bedtime in your new time zone.

People usually start taking them the day before their flight.

Melatonin is sold over the counter as a supplement in some countries (such as the US)

but it is available only on prescription in others (such as the UK).

Another option is to take sleeping tablets at bedtime for the first few nights after you

arrive in a new time zone. This may help you get over jet lag more quickly.

You shouldn't use sleeping tablets for more than a few nights. Taking them for longer

can make you dependent on them. This means you can get unpleasant effects when

you stop taking the sleeping tablets, such as anxiety. You may also have problems

sleeping when you stop taking a sleeping tablet.

What will happen to me?

Jet lag is always at its worst soon after you arrive. The more time zones you cross, the

longer it will take for your jet lag to wear off. Your body clock resets by about an hour

each day if you've travelled eastwards, and about an hour and a half each day if you've

travelled westwards.

Jet lag is inconvenient. But even without treatment, it usually lasts only a few days.

The patient information from BMJ Best Practice from which this leaflet is derived is regularly updated. The most recent

version of Best Practice can be found at

This information is intended for use by health

professionals. It is not a substitute for medical advice. It is strongly recommended that you independently verify any

interpretation of this material and, if you have a medical problem, see your doctor.

Please see BMJ's full terms of use at:

. BMJ does not make any representations,

conditions, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that this material is accurate, complete, up-to-date

or fit for any particular purposes.

© BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2016. All rights reserved.

© BMJ Publishing Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved.

Last published: Dec 02, 2016

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Jet lag in adults

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