Jet Lag Disorder

What is Jet Lag Disorder?

Jet lag disorder, or more commonly known as jet lag, is a sleep disorder that affects people who travel quickly through a series of time zones. The human body contains its own internal clock, which is known as circadian rhythms. This signals your body when it is time to go to sleep, and when it is time to be awake.

Jet lag happens because the body’s internal clock is still set to the time zone you started in, and not the time zone that you landed in. The more time zones you travel through, the more likely you are to suffer from jet lag. Jet lag has a series of symptoms that make life miserable. It is important to remember that it is a temporary condition, but it can make traveling miserable, especially if you travel on a regular basis.

There are measures you can take to reduce the possibility of developing jet lag.

What are the Symptoms of Jet Lag Disorder?

The symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person. Some people experience only one symptom, while others experience a variety of symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Waking early
  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty functioning
  • Stomach irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Not feeling well
  • Changes in mood

It is important to realize that the more time zones you have crossed, the worse your jet lag may be. Usually, jet lag starts within a day or two of traveling. Usually, jet lag does not occur unless you have traveled at least two time zones. The more time zones that you cross, the more sever your jet lag may be. This is especially true if you travel to the east.

Many people find that jet lag resolves itself after a few days for each time zone crossed.

Jet Lag Disorder Causes

Jet lag disorder is caused by a disruption to your circadian rhythms and can happen when traveling across two or more time zones. When you cross multiple time zones, your internal clock (or circadian rhythms) is out of sync, which disrupts your sleep-wake cycle. This is why you might feel out of sync with the time in your new location.

A change in airline cabin pressure and atmosphere at high altitudes can cause symptoms of jet lag disorder, whether you travel across different time zones or not. The low humidity levels, coupled with dehydration, can also cause symptoms of Jet lag disorder.

The influence of sunlight can also be a contributing factor to jet lag disorder. This is because your internal clock is greatly influenced by the sunlight, hence why some people rise with the sun. Technically, light has an influence on the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that aids in the synchronization of cells throughout your body. Light signals are transmitted to the hypothalamus by the cells in the tissue in the back of your eye.

How is Jet Lag Disorder Treated?

Jet lag does not usually require medical treatment. Symptoms usually resolve after a few days, but may last longer if you have traveled over multiple time zones.

Treatments include

If you travel a lot on business, you may need to see a sleep specialist, who will be able to prescribe medication to assist in resolving your symptoms.

Many patients find relief in taking sleep aids to help resolve their symptoms. Other patients require a benzodiazepine in order to cope with frequent jet lag. Other patients see relief through light therapy, which helps to reset the natural sleep cycle.

Jet Lag Disorder Prevention

Preventing jet lag or reducing the effects of it can easily be accomplished. Try getting plenty of rest before your trip, arriving early, and regulating your exposure to bright lights. Light exposure is one of the primary influences on your body’s internal clock; therefore, regulating it can help you adjust to your new locale.

You can also try sleeping on the plane if it’s evening time at your destination. The use of eye masks, headphones and earplugs can help you get some rest during the flight. Staying hydrated before, during and after your flight is also important to reduce symptoms of jet lag disorder. Setting your watch to the new time and sticking with your new schedule can also help you adjust to the time difference. It may be tempting to go to sleep immediately if you’re tired, but waiting until the local time to go to sleep is best, as it can help reduce symptoms of Jet lag disorder.

Last Reviewed:
October 06, 2016
Last Updated:
March 14, 2018