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Jet Lag

Jet lag causes, symptoms, and available treatments

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Dr Hilary Jones discusses jet lag and the treatments available at HealthExpress

If you're about to go on holiday or a business trip, the last thing you want to worry about is jet lag. Unfortunately, it is a very common problem for many of those who travel long distances, or frequently travel by air. The term jet lag refers to the disturbance of normal sleep patterns and associated disorientation that occurs when you travel through three or more time zones, disrupting your body clock (circadian rhythm).

It can affect anyone who travels through time zones on an aeroplane, even seasoned travellers, regardless of age or gender. Fortunately, jet lag often resolves itself within a few days of getting back to your standard routine. Read below for more information regarding jet lag, the associated symptoms, and possible treatments to speed up the recovery process.

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What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is an extremely common condition that is an often unavoidable consequence of long distance air travel. Flying through different time zones disrupts your natural body clock, which controls things like your sleep patterns and when you get hungry. When this disruption occurs, your body may take some time to adjust, causing you to experience associated symptoms. Such symptoms include drowsiness and a general lack of energy. These symptoms tend to become more pronounced as more time zones are passed through.

What are the causes of Jet Lag?

In simple terms, jet lag is caused when an individual travels through several time zones via air travel. This occurs because of the disruption to your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, commonly referred to as the body clock, maintains your body's natural routines, such as when you want to eat and sleep. Your body depends on this routine to function properly, and an integral part of it is when your body is exposed to light and darkness throughout a 24 hour cycle.

Travelling through time zones so quickly, as is the case with air travel, disrupts this regular rhythm. Your body needs time to adjust to the change. Factors, such as whether you travel east or west, and oxygen levels in the aeroplane, are also believed to have an effect.

A quick summary of the causes of jet lag including contributing factors include:

  • weakened immune system Adjusting to a new time zone
  • circadian rhythm Disruption of circadian rhythm
  • travelling eastwards Travelling eastwards
  • dehydration Dehydration
  • cabin pressure Changes in cabin pressure
  • stress levels Increased stress levels

What are the symptoms of Jet Lag?

The main symptoms of jet lag are easily identifiable and may vary from person to person, but are commonly associated with lack of sleep or sleep disturbance. They include:

  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability[1]

However, some of the less commonly known symptoms can include:

  • Indigestion
  • Bowel issues
  • Nausea/loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Muscle soreness
  • Irregular periods in women who travel frequently

It is suggested that jet lag often gets worse the further you travel and the more time zones you cross. This in fact may extend the amount of time taken to recover and reset the body clock to its original setting.[2]

  • symptomsDisturbed sleep pattern
  • symptomsExhaustion
  • symptomsDifficulty concentrating
  • symptomsIncreased iritability
  • symptomsAnxiety
  • symptomsSweating
  • symptomsHeadache
  • symptomsIndigestion

What are the benefits of treating Jet Lag?

Treating jet lag is important, as it means you can get back to your normal self as quickly as possible. Whilst the symptoms of jet lag usually only last around 2 days, some people experience disturbed sleep for a lot longer. That's why it's often very helpful to get your jet lag under control via treatment. Other benefits include:

  • Behavioural normalisation
  • Restored sleeping pattern
  • Returned appetite

What treatments are there for Jet Lag?

There hasn't as yet been any medication that has been specifically developed as a treatment to avoid jet lag and there is no guaranteed jet lag cure. However, there are a few methods people can use to alleviate the symptoms.

Homeopathic remedies

There are some homeopathic treatments that are available to treat jet lag, however, there is no clinical evidence that they are effective.

Some of the ingredients that are used in homeopathic treatments include:

  • Arnica
  • Bellis perennis
  • Chamomilla
  • Ipecacuanha
  • Lycopodium


It has been suggested that exposing yourself to the sun, when in a new region, will help the body to reset its internal clock. Going outside or opening the window can help you to adjust to the time zone.

Light therapy

This is similar to the treatment with the sunlight, but is most effective in regions where there is/will be minimal sunlight. As the body's circadian rhythm is influenced by exposure to light, light therapy can help ease the transition in a new location. By exposing your eyes to bright artificial lighting, this could simulate when you're meant to be awake and vice versa.

Sleeping tablets

There are some people who find sleeping pills beneficial when dealing with jet lag, but according to NHS sources they aren't recommended by doctors. This is because they are very addictive and some people may find that they become reliant on their sedative effects after only a few days. You should speak to your doctor if you are considering using sleeping tablets as a remedy to avoid jet lag.


This has been found to have some impact on the body's adjustment to a new time zone. By participating in moderate exercise outdoors, exposure to sunlight can also occur.

Melatonin tablets

The hormone known as melatonin, which is produced naturally in the body, plays an important role in regulating when you sleep and when you feel awake. The effects of jet lag can be reduced when this hormone is increased. Melatonin-based medications are not officially licensed to be used for this purpose, but they can be prescribed "off-label" by a doctor, if they feel this form of treatment would be beneficial to avoid jet lag.[3]

Preventing Jet Lag

There is no way to guarantee that you will not get jet lag, but it is possible to reduce its effects, if you are prepared. Following a jet lag prevent plan will help you to reduce your risk of jet lag.

Before you travel, you can prepare for the sleep disruption by going to bed either an hour earlier, or an hour later, depending on your direction of travel. Try to reduce the stress that can be related to air travel, as this can worsen jet lag symptoms. Checking in online, for example, can be a helpful way of reducing flight-related stress and anxiety. During the flight itself, make sure you are well hydrated and try to keep your alcohol and caffeine intake limited.

There are a few things you can do when you get to your destination that can help with jet lag symptoms. These include:

  • Establishing a new routine in the new time zone.
  • Try not to sleep when you arrive, as this can prevent your body from adapting
  • Spending time outside is recommended

What do HealthExpress offer for Jet Lag?

Although there is no medication specifically designed to treat jet lag, melatonin-based treatments can regulate when you sleep and when you feel awake, which can reduce the symptoms associated with jet lag. We offer Circadin to help you to stay alert when you travel. You can buy this treatment here at HealthExpress after you have completed our free online consultation.


Dr Hilary Jones, HealthExpress Medical Advisor

Jet lag

Jet lag is an uncomfortable condition that affects people who travel across different time zones. Although it's not entirely avoidable, there are ways to help you adjust quicker to the time in your new destination.

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