You can't wait to go to your sister's wedding and see family and friends. But you're not so thrilled at the idea of the long cross-country flight from California to North Carolina.
You feel fine for a while after you get there. But later that night, you have trouble sleeping, even though you're tired. And your stomach is giving you problems.
have jet lag.
lag happens when you fly across one or more time zones. Most people need to
cross three time zones to notice jet lag. The more time zones you cross, the
worse jet lag may be.
- Jet lag may make it hard for you to fall
asleep, stay asleep, or stay awake during the day. It also can make you feel weak, or
you may lose your appetite. You may not be able to have a bowel movement
(constipation), or you may have diarrhea.
- Jet lag can happen to anyone. Your age,
fitness, health, and how often you fly don't make a difference in whether you
- Jet lag usually is worse when a person flies east rather
than west. In other words, it will be worse when a person goes from the United
States to Europe than from Europe to the U.S.
- Jet lag makes you
feel bad, but it isn't serious. Most people get better 3 to 4 days after their
- The supplement melatonin may help relieve the symptoms of
jet lag. Sleeping pills may help too. But both of these also have downsides.
How can you deal with jet lag?
You can't cure jet
lag, but you may be able to reduce the symptoms using the hormone supplement
melatonin and sleeping pills. Other treatments besides medicines have not been
studied or have been studied very little, but they may be worth trying.
Melatonin and sleeping pills
Melatonin is a hormone that your body
makes. It regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Normally, melatonin
levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the
night, and then go down early in the morning.
may help "reset" your biological clock. Studies show that it has reduced the
symptoms of jet lag for people flying both east and west.1
Suggestions about times and dosages vary among
researchers who have studied melatonin. Doctors recommend that you:
- Take melatonin after dark on the day you
travel and after dark for a few days after you arrive at your
- Take melatonin in the
evening for a few days before you fly if you will be flying east.
The safety and effectiveness of melatonin have not been
thoroughly tested. Taking large doses of it may cause sleep disruption and
daytime fatigue. If you have
epilepsy or are taking
blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), talk to
your doctor before you use melatonin.
The sleeping pills eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zolpidem (Ambien) have been
studied for jet lag. They may help you sleep despite jet lag if you take them
before bedtime after you arrive at your destination.
You may have side effects of headaches, dizziness, confusion, and feeling sick
to your stomach.
Other things to do
None of the things in the
following lists have been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them
Before you go, and on the plane
- Be well rested
before you start to travel.
- If you are flying east, go to bed 1
hour earlier each night for a few days before your trip. If you're flying west,
go to bed 1 hour later each night instead. But if your trip will last 2 days or
less, stay on your home time.
- Set your watch to your new time zone
as you start flying. If it's nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the
plane. Sleep masks, earplugs, and headphones may help. If it's daytime at your
destination, try to stay awake.
- On the plane, drink water to avoid
dehydration. Avoid alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine.
When you arrive
- Try to change your schedule to the new time
as soon as you can. For example, if you arrive at 4 p.m., do your best to stay
awake until your usual bedtime. Get up in the morning instead of sleeping late.
- Think about light exposure. If you flew east, try to avoid bright
light in the morning, and get light in the afternoon. To avoid light in the
morning, stay indoors, such as by going to a mall or a museum. If you flew west, stay
awake during daylight, and try to sleep after dark. This may help adjust your
body clock and help your body make melatonin at the right time.
- Caffeine may help you stay alert during the day after you
arrive. But it also may make it harder to sleep at night.
If you have an important event, try
to arrive a few days early so your body can adjust to the new time zone.
Return to Sleep Problems: Dealing With Jet Lag
- Sleep Problems, Age 12 and Older
- Travel Health
Herxheimer A (2008). Jet lag, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.