Sleep Problems: Dealing With Jet Lag

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Jet lag is a sleep problem that happens when you fly across two or more time zones. Most people need to cross three time zones to notice it. The more time zones you cross, the worse it may be. It's usually worse when you fly east rather than west. You may have trouble sleeping. You may be sleepy during the day. Other symptoms include feeling weak, losing your appetite, or being constipated. Most people get better 3 to 4 days after their flight.

Jet lag can happen to anyone. Your age, fitness, and health and how often you fly don't make a difference in whether you get it.

How can you deal with jet lag?

You may be able to prevent or reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Here are some things you might try.

  • Try melatonin.

    Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes. It regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Taking a melatonin supplement may help "reset" your biological clock.

    Your doctor can recommend how much to take and when to take it. Your doctor may suggest that you:

    • Take melatonin after dark on the day you travel and after dark for a few days after you arrive at your destination.
    • Take melatonin in the evening for a few days before you fly.
  • Prepare for jet lag before you go and on the plane.

    Take these steps. They have not been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them helpful.

    • If you have an important event, try to arrive a few days early so your body can adjust to the new time zone.
    • 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, you may choose to 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.
  • Help yourself adjust once you arrive.

    Take these steps. They have not been proved to reduce jet lag, but some people find them helpful.

    • 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.
  • Ask your doctor about prescription sleeping medicine.

    A medicine may help you sleep after you arrive at your destination.


Current as of: July 10, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.