Jet Lag Tips: Coping with Symptoms and Causes

If you plan on traveling across time zones, you may experience jet lag. Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that affects your body's natural clock or circadian rhythm. 

Although we all think we are invincible when it comes to jet lag, we are not!   Take it seriously and plan accordingly when arranging for your trip.  

Jet lag can cause a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. Fortunately, there are several tips and techniques that can help you cope with jet lag and minimize its effects.

One of the most effective ways to prevent jet lag is to prepare your body before you travel. This can include adjusting your sleep schedule in the days leading up to your trip, staying hydrated, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. Once you arrive at your destination, try to get as much sunlight as possible, as exposure to natural light can help reset your body's clock. Additionally, staying active and exercising regularly is important, as physical activity can help regulate your sleep patterns and reduce jet lag symptoms.

If you do experience jet lag, there are several strategies you can use to cope with its effects. These include taking short naps during the day, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol, and staying hydrated. It may also be helpful to use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to reduce stress and promote relaxation. With the proper preparation and coping strategies, you can minimize the effects of jet lag and enjoy your travels to the fullest.

Understanding Jet Lag

Jet lag is a common condition that affects travelers who cross multiple time zones. It occurs when your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is disrupted. This disruption can cause various symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and digestive problems.

When you travel across time zones, your circadian rhythm becomes out of sync with your new location's time. This change can be challenging for your body to adjust to, especially if you travel across several time zones. The farther you travel, the more severe your symptoms will likely be.

Sometimes, I travel from Asia to the USA when there is a 14-hour difference. The flight is 14 hours when traveling to New York. So I leave at 8pm on Friday and arrive at 8pm New York time the same day! Little to say, my clock can be messed up.

Plus, flying east has always been worse for me, and now I know I am not alone  (more on that later.)

Jet lag can affect anyone, but some people are more susceptible to it than others. Factors that can increase your risk of experiencing jet lag include age, the direction of travel, and the number of time zones crossed.

It also can go beyond whether you sleep on the plane or not.  As someone who never sleeps on planes, I haven’t had the luxury to say that my jet lag was more or less because of that.

The symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person, ranging from mild to severe. Some people may experience only minor symptoms, while others may have more severe ones that can last several days. Common symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, irritability, and digestive problems.

Causes of Jet Lag

Jet lag occurs when your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythms, are disrupted due to crossing time zones. This can cause various symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and digestive issues. Here are some of the leading causes of jet lag:

Circadian Rhythms

Your body's circadian rhythms regulate your sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, and other bodily functions. These rhythms are influenced by environmental cues, such as light and darkness, and can be disrupted when you travel across time zones. This can lead to jet lag symptoms as your body struggles to adjust to the new time zone.

Crossing Time Zones

When you travel across time zones, you may experience jet lag symptoms because your body is still operating in the time zone of your departure location. For example, if you travel from New York to London, you may arrive in London at 9am local time, but your body still thinks it's 4am. This can cause fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms.

Air Cabin Pressure and Humidity

Airplane cabins' air pressure and humidity levels can also contribute to jet lag symptoms. The low humidity and high altitude can cause dehydration, worsening fatigue, and other symptoms. The reduced air pressure can also cause gas to expand in your body, leading to bloating and discomfort.

To reduce the effects of jet lag, it's important to take steps to help your body adjust to the new time zone. This may include adjusting your sleep schedule before your trip, staying hydrated during your flight, and exposing yourself to sunlight at your destination to help reset your circadian rhythms.

Symptoms of Jet Lag

Traveling across different time zones can disrupt your body's internal clock, leading to various symptoms. These symptoms can vary in severity and duration, depending on factors such as the number of time zones crossed, the direction of travel, and your individual health and sleep habits.

Physical Symptoms

Jet lag can cause a range of physical symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and digestive issues
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • General malaise and a sense of unwellness

Mental Symptoms

In addition to physical symptoms, jet lag can also affect your mental state, including:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired memory and cognitive function
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Reduced motivation and productivity
  • Eating recklessly

These symptoms can make it difficult to enjoy your trip and leave you tired and unproductive for days after your arrival.  Imagine planning your trip for so long, and then you are too tired to enjoy it….

It's important to note that not everyone experiences the same symptoms or severity of jet lag. However, by understanding the potential symptoms, you can take steps to minimize their impact and enjoy your travels as much as possible.

Preventing Jet Lag

If you're planning a trip across time zones, taking steps to prevent jet lag is important. Here are some tips to help you minimize the effects of jet lag:

Adjust Sleep Schedule

Before leaving, gradually adjust your sleep schedule to match your destination's time zone. If you're traveling east, try going to bed early. If traveling west, try going to bed later.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can worsen jet lag symptoms, so staying hydrated before, during, and after your flight is important. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcohol and caffeine can disrupt your sleep and make jet lag symptoms worse. Avoid these substances during your flight and in the days leading up to your trip.

Changing Meal Times and Eating Lightly

Changing your meal times can help your body adjust to the new time zone. Try to eat meals at the appropriate times for your destination, even if it means eating at odd times. Eating lightly can also help you avoid digestive issues that can worsen jet lag symptoms.

By following these tips, you can help minimize the effects of jet lag and enjoy your trip to the fullest.

Flying East vs. Flying West

A mathematical model has now allowed physicists to demonstrate why this might be happening, demonstrating that our brain cells react differently depending on the direction we're moving in.

This is because our neural oscillator cells, which serve as the pacemakers for the rest of our brain, don't operate on a strict 24-hour cycle.

According to studies, their activity has a significantly longer cycle without any external cues—roughly 24.5 hours. Therefore, it is simpler for someone to lengthen their day by going westward between time zones than it is for them to do the opposite by flying east.

It takes more time to adapt when flying east, so it is something to consider when planning your trip!

Coping with Jet Lag

Light Exposure

One of the most effective ways to combat jet lag is to expose yourself to light at the right times. This can help reset your body's internal clock and make adjusting to the new time zone easier. Here are some tips:

  • Try to get as much natural light as possible during the day.
  • If you arrive at your destination during the daytime, spend as much time outside as possible.
  • If you arrive at night, avoid bright lights and screens for a few hours before bed.


Regular exercise can also help alleviate the symptoms of jet lag. Here are some tips:

  • Try to exercise during the day to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid exercising too close to bedtime, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • If you're traveling for an extended period, consider packing resistance bands or other portable exercise equipment to use in your hotel room.

When to Seek Medical Help

In most cases, jet lag is a temporary condition that resolves on its own within a few days. However, if your symptoms persist or become severe, you may want to seek medical help.

Here are some situations where you should consider seeking medical attention:

  • If you experience severe fatigue, dizziness, or confusion that does not improve with rest or time.
  • If you have difficulty sleeping or staying awake for more than a few days.
  • If you develop symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness.
  • If you have a history of sleep disorders or other medical conditions that could exacerbate your jet lag symptoms.
  • If you take medications that could interfere with your sleep or cause other side effects.

It's important to note that there is no single treatment for jet lag, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, your doctor may be able to recommend strategies or medications that can help you manage your symptoms and get back to your routine more quickly.

If you are planning a trip and are concerned about how jet lag may affect you, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor before you go. They can provide you with personalized advice and help you come up with a plan to minimize your symptoms and make the most of your trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What causes jet lag symptoms?

A1: Jet lag is caused by a disruption in your body's natural circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When you travel across multiple time zones, your body's internal clock becomes out of sync with the new time zone, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, and irritability.

Q2: What are 5 symptoms of jet lag?

A2: The symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person, but some common ones include fatigue, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and digestive problems.

Q3: How long do jet lag symptoms last?

A3: The duration of jet lag symptoms can vary depending on the individual, the trip's length, and whether you are traveling east or west. Generally, it takes about one day to adjust for every time zone crossed, but more when you are traveling east. 

Q4: What is the fastest way to cure jet lag?

A4: Jet lag has no cure, but some ways can alleviate the symptoms and help your body adjust to the new time zone. Some tips include getting plenty of rest before your trip, staying hydrated, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and getting sunlight exposure during the day.

Q5: How do you prepare your body for jet lag?

A5: To prepare your body for jet lag, getting plenty of rest before your trip and adjusting your sleep schedule gradually is beneficial. You can also eat meals at the same time as your destination and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can disrupt your sleep.

Q6: How to overcome jet lag once home?

A6: It's important to get back into your everyday routine to overcome jet lag once you're home as quickly as possible. This means eating meals at regular times, getting plenty of rest, and exposing yourself to natural light during the day. You can also avoid napping during the day, as this can make it harder to sleep at night.

As you travel more, the more experience you get with jet lag and figure out what is best for you to recover healthily and in a timely matter.  Take care of yourself!