Jet Lag

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Causes of Fatigue Slideshow Pictures

Does the direction of travel matter?

Yes. Travelers flying north or south in the same time zone typically experience the fewest problems because the time of day always remains the same as in the place where the flight originated. These travelers may experience discomfort, but this usually results from confinement in an airplane for a long time or from differences in climate, culture, and diet at the destination location. Time differences do not play a role.

Travelers flying east, on the other hand, typically experience the most problems because they "lose" time. For example, on an international flight from Washington, D.C., to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a traveler loses eight hours. Meals, sleep, bowel habits, and other daily routines are all pushed ahead eight hours.

Travelers flying west "gain" time and usually have an easier time adjusting than eastward travelers. However, they too experience symptoms of jet lag after landing because they still must adjust to a different schedule.

Do the symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity?

Yes. People flying across only one or two time zones may be able to adjust without noticeable effects of the time change. Those flying across three or more time zones will likely develop noticeable symptoms of jet lag. Generally, the intensity of symptoms varies in relation to the number of time zones crossed and the direction of travel. People also vary in their susceptibility to jet lag symptoms and the severity of the symptoms.

What are risk factors for jet lag?

The main cause of jet lag is travel across different time zones. However, there are certain risk factors that may result in symptoms being more severe or longer-lasting.

  • Travel across three or more time zones: Most people can adjust rapidly to a one or two time zone change. Three or more may cause more noticeable symptoms of jet lag.
  • Flying east: As stated previously, travel from west to east causes travelers to "lose" time, and this can be a more difficult adjustment.
  • Age: Older adults may recover from jet lag more slowly.
  • Frequent travel: Pilots, flight attendants, and frequent business travelers who are constantly in different time zones may have difficulty adjusting.
  • Preexisting conditions: Preexisting sleep deprivation, stress, and poor sleep habits prior to travel can exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
  • Flight conditions: The monotony of travel, immobility and cramped seating, airline food, altitude, and cabin pressure can impact jet lag symptoms.
  • Alcohol use: Overconsumption of alcohol during long flights can also worsen the symptoms of jet lag.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/6/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Depression Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Jet Lag - Remedies

    What remedies have you found helpful for jet lag?

    Post View 5 Comments
  • Jet Lag - Symptoms

    What symptoms do you experience with jet lag?

    Post View 7 Comments
  • Jet Lag - Coping

    In what ways do you deal or cope with jet lag? What advice would you give to someone who needs help?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Jet Lag - Melatonin

    Have you taken melatonin supplements to prevent jet lag? How does it help?

    Post
  • Jet Lag - Direction of Travel

    Do you notice a difference in jet lag symptoms depending on the direction in which you travel? If so, explain.

    Post View 2 Comments

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors