Jet Lag

Jet Lag is a common disorder that can affect people who are traveling in different time zones. It is a temporary sleep disorder and can cause fatigue, tiredness, lethargy,  gastrointestinal problems and difficulty to stay alert. These symptoms are not dangerous, but can disturb your trip affecting your well-being. Fortunately, there are some ways to prevent it and to reduce the effects of Jet Lag.

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What is Jet Lag?

Your body has a natural internal clock that makes you sleepier at night and more awake during the day. This internal clock is called circadian rhythm, which is responsible of regulating the 24-hour cycle of biological process in animals and plants. Your body is responsible of liberating hormones that makes you sleep and as well increase the temperature in your body to help you stay awake. When you are traveling to places with different time zones, your internal clock suffers a disbalance. Your body maintains itself synced with your original time zone instead of adapting to the time zone in your new location. 

Which factors can influence Jet Lag?

There are several factors that can impact your internal clock.

When you are traveling, for example, from Atlanta at 6 pm local time and arrive in Paris at 7 pm local time, your body thinks it is 1 am instead of 7 am.  Which means you want to sleep and, in Paris, people are ready to awake up. Your body need some days to adjust your sleep-wake cycle, which can cause tiredness, hunger and flashes of energy in different periods than expected. Studies have shown that older people have more difficulty of adjusting their bodies to multiple time zones than younger people, especially children. Children can adjust their body faster to the time zone and the symptoms are less severe. It is also more difficult to adapt to the new time zone, when you are traveling eastward. This happens, because it is easier to make your body adjust itself to sleep later, rather than forcing your body to sleep earlier than what is accustomed.

Another factor that can impact in your internal clock is the exposition to the sun light. The sun is responsible for the regulation of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body to be able to synchronize the sleep-awake cycle. During the day, the body produces very little melatonin and at night, occurs the opposite, and it is at this time that the body produces the highest amount of melatonin.

Another factor that can also impact in symptoms of jet lag is the cabin pressure and high altitudes that you suffer while traveling. These factors together with low humidity inside the planes can make the symptoms more severe. 

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of jet lag are sleep-related. Usually, they start after 12 hours of arriving and can last several days.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Difficulty to sleep at night and wake up in the day;
  • Insomnia;
  • Mood changes;
  • Tiredness and exhaustion;
  • Concentration and memory problems;
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as upset stomach and diarrhea;
  • Lethargy;
  • Drowsiness;

When should you see a doctor?

Usually, the symptoms of jet lag are temporary and mild in severity. However, if you are a frequent traveler and have severe symptoms it is recommend to see your GP. 

How to prevent Jet Lag? How can I reduce the symptoms?

In order to prevent jet lag or at least reduce the symptoms, there are some basic steps and some tips, that you can follow:

Before traveling:

  • Try to choose flights in which you will be able to arrive in the early morning. Doing this, you will be able to stay awake until the time to go to bed in the current time zone;
  • Try to arrive to your destination a few days before any important event or meeting you have. Doing this, your body will have more time to adjust to the new time zone;
  • Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine the day before you travel. These drinks can make the jet lag symptoms worsen because they can interfere in your natural clock preventing you to sleep;
  • In the previous days before traveling, try to sleep gradually some hours later or earlier depending on the time zone of your destination. Doing this will help you adjust to the new time zone that you are traveling.
  • Try not to eat a lot of meat,  exercise, or use electronic gadgets, the previous night before going to sleep the day before you travel. Doing this will help you rest better and have an adequate energy level to cope with the time zone differences;
  • Try to have plenty of rest the previous days before your trip. Doing this will decrease the symptoms of jet lag;
  • Try to drink more water, recent studies have shown that drinking a proper amount of water helps your body maintain itself hydrated, helping you reduce the symptoms of jet lag.

What should you do while traveling?

  • Try to sleep in the airplane if it is nighttime through your destination. If it is necessary, use headphones, earplugs and eye masks to reduce the noise and light. If it is daytime in your destination, try not to sleep, even  if you are really tired;
  • Try to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol makes you dehydrated worsening the symptoms of jet lag.

What should you do after traveling?

  • Try to regulate your normal sleep cycle as fast as you can;
  • Set the alarm to avoid oversleeping; Studies show that sleeping more than 6-8 hours will not help you recover the lack of sleep you had the previous days.
  • If you are really tired, take a nap for maximum 20-30 minutes. This will help you to adjust to the new time zone and will not interfere in your normal nighttime sleep
  • Try to expose yourself to natural sunlight to adjust easier to your new location. Sun is one of the most important factors, that can influence your body´s circadian rhythm.  If you are traveling eastward, be sure to expose yourself to the morning sun. This way, you’ll be able to adjust to the new time zone.
  •  If you are traveling westward, expose yourself to the night light, which can help you to adjust to the time for the new location because of the melatonin level production.

How can you treat Jet Lag?

Jet Lag is not a serious disorder and sometimes it is not necessary to have a treatment. However, there are some options that are available that will help you to be able to do your daily tasks. Make sure to include these activities or tips during your trip:

  • Sunshine and light therapy:  as mentioned above, night or sunlight can help you adjust your body clock and reduce the symptoms;
  • Melatonin: it is a natural hormone produced in your brain that lets your  body know when it’s the appropriate time to sleep. You can take over-the-counter (OTC) melatonin supplements, which can help you sleep; even if your body is fighting to stay awake. To use it, is very easy: just be sure to take it 30 minutes before you go to sleep and make sure you can have at least 6 to 8 hours of interrupted sleep;
  • Sleeping tablets: They may be useful if you are having trouble sleeping (insomnia). Most of these medicines, require a prescription from a doctor. It is always good to talk to your doctor, because they can have side effects and you need to take it just if the symptoms are severe and for a short period of time;
  • One study has found that if you avoid eating while you are normally hungry, rather eating at the correct time of the new time zone, will help your body speed up the process and adjust itself faster to the new time zone;

There is no way to avoid jet lag completely, but following the tips and basic steps mentioned above, will help you reduce the effects and will help you enjoy your next trip.

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