Jet Lag (Sleep Disturbance)

Jet lag, commonly referred to as desynchronosis or flight fatigue, is a temporary sleep disorder which can affect anyone who happens to travel quickly across multiple time zones.

  • Most common symptoms of jet lag are related to sleep
  • Effective treatment available

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Jet Lag

1 treatment(s) for Jet Lag (Sleep Disturbance)

Melatonin (Circadin)
  • A kind of sleeping tablet
  • Very effective for jet lag
  • Not recommended for children below 18

DescriptionCausesTypes of treatmentQuestions and answers

Jet lag is commonly referred to as desynchronosis or flight fatigue. It is a temporary sleep disorder which can affect anyone who happens to travel quickly across multiple time zones. Your body’s natural clock, known as the circadian rhythm, signals your body when it should stay awake and when it should be going to sleep. It becomes disrupted by travelling and eventually induces the condition if agitated enough. Jet lag primarily affects a person’s energy levels and their state of awareness.

The human body is aligned on a precise 24-hour cycle. When everything is perfectly in check, your body can perform crucial biological functions accurately, such as releasing hormones which promote the function of sleep. If the body clock is askew, this hormone can be released too early or too late. This condition can interfere with everyday life and activities in multiple ways when symptoms begin to develop. On an average, the symptoms usually begin to show around 12 hours after arriving at a new location.

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty in staying awake
  • Disturbed night sleep schedule
  • Irritability
  • Feeling drowsy
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Feeling disoriented
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Feeling sick
  • Indigestion

The more time zones crossed on route to your travel location, the higher is the risk of experiencing jet lag. Symptoms are typically not life-threatening but can have a negative effect on a person’s well-being and general travel comfort. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent or minimise jet lag and return balance to your natural body clock.

To learn more about jet lag, see the comprehensive patient information leaflet

When multiple time zones are crossed very fast (while travelling by plane), your body clock becomes out of sync with the time of your new locale. It wouldn’t be able to effectively control your sleeping and waking cycles. You are also at risk of agitating more than your sleep/wake cycle, as your hormones, surrounding temperature, and other biological features are also affected by jet lag.

When travelling by plane to a new country, you could help prepare your body in advance by sleeping on the plane. However, people often struggle with this as certain factors including comfort, noise, and temperature can prevent them from doing so. It will take a few days for your body to completely adjust and adapt to your new sleep-wake cycle, along with other bodily functions which have fallen out of sync, including hunger and bowel movements.

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Jet lag is typically a very short-lived condition and won’t always require the need for treatment. Symptoms will often improve within a few days. But if they persist and are getting in the way of daily activities, there are a few readily available options which can help you. If you travel a lot and become bothered by jet lag frequently, you may be prescribed medications or even light therapy.

Keep in mind a few points:

  • When you arrive at your destination, try to adapt your schedule according to the new time zone as soon as possible
  • Drinks containing caffeine may help by not allowing you to sleep at an inappropriate time (avoid this before immediately bedtime)
  • Try to relax
  • Avoid large meals, heavy exercise, and any kind of excitement before going to sleep
  • Try to adapt the time zone changes a few days before departure

Sunlight: When you arrive at the new destination, try to expose yourself to natural sunlight (as much as possible). This helps your internal clock to adjust. Sunlight cuts down the amount of natural melatonin released by the brain. This delays the time when you start feeling sleepy. Ultimately, it becomes easy for you to adapt the changes in the new time zone.



This is the hormone that your body will naturally produce every single night, a few hours prior to sleep. Melatonin is a very effective medicine for jet lag. It takes around 30-40 minutes to start its effect and is only recommended for use if you can sleep for a minimum of eight hours after taking it. If you were to wake up before 8 hours have passed, you may feel drowsiness and disorientation.

Sleeping pills

We would only advise this option if melatonin has proved ineffective. Certain medications, referred to as sleeping pills (typically benzodiazepines or nonbenzodiazepines), can help you sleep during a flight and can also be used for nights subsequent to arriving at your destination. Over-the-counter sleeping pills can be purchased, or stronger versions can be prescribed by a doctor. Side effects can occur but are uncommon.

Multiple other methods exist such as staying hydrated at all times, eating at mealtimes which are appropriate to the new time zone you are in, and even light therapy if you believe you require more advanced treatment.

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What factors influence jet lag?

The severity of jet lag will vary depending on certain factors. These include age, social factors (such as stress and worry) and the time of the flight; day flights are usually much easier to deal with. Also, the direction in which you are headed affects the intensity of your condition. Eastbound flights tend to be more severe, while north-south and south-north flights will give no feeling of jet lag.

How long do symptoms last?

Subsequent to the flight arriving in a new time zone, symptoms will typically fade after around 2-3 days. If symptoms persist, you should consult a doctor immediately.

Is melatonin effective for jet lag?

There is strong scientific backing behind the positive effects that melatonin can have towards decreasing symptoms of jet lag. It can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep significantly, boot your vigilance, and reduce fatigue during the daytime.

Are sleeping pills a viable alternative?

We only recommend sleeping pills to people who have found melatonin to be ineffective and need another form of treatment.

If you are looking for some expert help, book an ONLINE consultation with our GMC Registered Clinicians at

Patient discretion and confidentiality top the priority list at!