Jet Lag (cont.)
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.
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.
In this Article
- What is jet lag?
- What are other symptoms and signs of jet lag?
- How long does jet lag last?
- What is a time zone?
- What causes jet lag?
- How does the body keep time?
- Does the direction of travel matter?
- Do the symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity?
- What are risk factors for jet lag?
- Are there any remedies for jet lag? Is it possible to prevent jet lag?
- What is the treatment for jet lag?
- Are there effective medications for jet lag? What is the role of melatonin in jet lag?
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.
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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.
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