how to get over jet lag

How To Get Over Jet Lag (Or Avoid It Completely)

By Dr. Shoaib Muhammad , published on July 20, 2023
Dr Shoaib Muhammad,MD

Jet lag is a traveller’s regular nightmare.

It causes chaos in your body and can spoil the days and nights of your journey.

Not to mention dampen your experience or productivity. So, if you know how to get over jet lag quickly or how to avoid it completely, you can make your travels much more fun and productive.

I've gathered tips and insights from experienced medical professionals, travellers, and scientific researchers to help you bid farewell to jet lag. 

Whether you fly regularly or you're getting ready for an annual holiday, this comprehensive guide gives you everything you need to overcome jet lag and make the most out of your travels.

What Is Jet Lag Anyway?

Have you ever wondered why you feel disoriented after a long-distance flight especially when travelling across continents?

Well, you’ve likely experienced a condition known as jet lag. Jet lag is a disruption, to your body’s clock. It's called the circadian rhythm, and that disruption occurs when you rapidly cross multiple time zones.

Think of your rhythm as a conductor in an orchestra finely tuned to the day-night cycle of your home location.

But, when you swiftly travel across time zones, this conductor loses its rhythm and harmony, resulting in jet lag [1].

What Happens Inside the Body During Jet Lag?

Now you might be curious about what happens inside your body during jet lag.

Let’s take a look.

The circadian rhythm is not only responsible for regulating your sleep and wakefulness. It also influences essential biological processes like hormone production and body temperature regulation.

This first of 3 infographics on how to get over jet lag summarises the symptoms, who is prone and other content in this section

The daily pattern of light and darkness act as a cue for this rhythm. But, when you enter another time zone these familiar cues are disrupted, causing your body clock to stumble and leading to jet lag.

The severity of jet lag can vary based on factors, such, as the number of time zones crossed and the direction of travel.

Interestingly, if you're flying eastward you may experience jet lag compared to flying westward. This is because adjusting to a day can be more challenging for your body than adjusting to a night. [2]

Jet Lag Symptoms

Jet lag can manifest in many ways. Its intensity can differ from person to person. Some common experiences include:

  • Disturbed sleep: Falling asleep might be difficult and staying asleep can be a struggle. You may feel drowsy throughout the day.
  • Fatigue: It's quite common to feel like you're dragging your feet and running low on energy when jet lag kicks in.
  • Difficulty focusing: Cognitive abilities may suffer, making it harder to stay focused and on-task.
  • Mood changes: You might find yourself becoming irritable or getting mood swings. There’s a possibility of feeling mildly down.
  • Digestive issues: Upset stomach, indigestion, or changes in appetite could occur due to disruptions in your eating schedule [1][3].

How Long Does Jet Lag Last?

So how long should you anticipate being, in this jet-lagged state? It varies from person to person.

As a guideline, it usually takes about one day, per time zone crossed for your body to fully adjust to the new location.

Therefore, if you have crossed six time zones you may need six days to fully recover. Though that would be in more extreme cases.

However please keep in mind that this is only an estimate. Some individuals may bounce back quickly while others might require a bit more time to overcome jet lag [2].

How to Avoid Jet Lag and Travel Comfortably

Jet lag can put a damper on your travel plans leaving you exhausted confused and a bit sluggish.

But don't worry there are some tricks you can use to minimise its impact and make the most of your trip. So let’s explore some tips on how to avoid jet lag.

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule Before Departure

A good starting point is to adjust your sleep schedule before you leave [1].

If possible, gradually change your bedtime to match the time zone of your destination a few days, in advance.

Whether you go to bed an hour earlier or later each day depends on the direction of your travel.

Stay Hydrated and Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

Make sure to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine [2]. Drink plenty of water before during and, after your flight to keep yourself hydrated.

It may be tempting to have a cup of tea or an alcoholic beverage during the flight. But both can disrupt your sleep patterns and dehydrate you.

The second infographic on how to get over jet lag looks at avoiding it altogether in the first place.

Get Some Natural Light Exposure

Once you arrive at your destination try to spend some time and soak up the light [1].

To reset your body clock it's important to recognise the role sunlight plays in regulating the production of melatonin; the hormone for your sleep-wake cycle.

So, don't just stay indoors and deny your body this important signal for what time of day it is. Get some light exposure when the sun's out.

Wear a Travel Pillow

Never underestimate the value of a travel pillow. It can be your most important companion during a long flight.

Opt for a memory foam pillow with a U-shape design to ensure neck support and adjustability. Here's how you can wear a travel pillow:

  • Begin by putting the U-shaped pillow around your neck making sure that the opening is facing forward.
  • Now rest your head on the pillow ensuring that your neck gets support.
  • Take a moment to adjust the pillow according to your liking finding the level of firmness and position that offers comfort.

Get Quality Sleep On The Plane

Striving for quality sleep while on a plane is essential. I have a full article on how to sleep well on flights here. But the short version is:

  • Dress comfortably.
  • Consider layering up to adapt to the temperature onboard.
  • Use Noise-cancelling headphones to block out any disturbances.
  • An eye mask can work wonders by creating an environment to sleep.
  • Set your watch to match the time zone of your destination and try to catch some rest during the flight hours that correspond to nighttime there.

Relief For Back Pain While Flying

Back pain always makes plane travel worse. Luckily, there are measures you can take to ease back pain while travelling on a plane.

  • Consider selecting a seat by the aisle that allows you the flexibility to stretch and move around during the flight.
  • Perform seated exercises, like rotating your ankles, rolling your shoulders and gently contracting your buttocks muscles to enhance blood circulation.
  • Use a support cushion or roll up a blanket to maintain the curvature of your lower back.
  • Consider using Deep Heat for immediate and effective relief to enjoy a restful sleep on the flight.

How to Quickly Recover from Jet Lag

Whether you've just returned from a getaway or a busy work trip, dealing with jet lag can be quite a challenge.

Here are some tips based on my experience as a doctor to help you bounce back quickly and regain your energy.

Gradually Adjust Your Sleep Routine

While it may be tempting, try not to take naps once you reach your destination.

Instead, make an effort to adapt to the time zone by going to bed and waking up at the local times. It might take a couple of days, but your body will appreciate the adjustment.

This third infographic in this article on how to get over jet lag looks at recovering fast, summarising the content in this section.

Stay Hydrated and Mindful of Your Eating Habits

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout your journey and after arriving.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can disrupt your sleep patterns.

Also, be mindful of your meal times. Try to have healthy meals according to the local time. This will aid your body in adjusting to the schedule.

Get Some Sunlight Exposure

Spending time outdoors, during the day in the morning can do wonders for regulating your body’s clock.

Sunlight helps reset your rhythm so make it a point to get some natural light exposure.

If sunlight is not easily accessible you might want to try using a therapy box that mimics natural light exposure.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Establishing a routine before bedtime is beneficial to signal to your body that it's time to unwind.

This routine can involve activities such as reading a book practising meditation or taking a soothing bath.

As bedtime approaches it's helpful to dim the lights in your surroundings to encourage the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids in sleep.

Manage Your Sleep Environment

Ensure that your sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to rest. Keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet can contribute to sleep quality.

Investing in a mattress and pillows can further enhance your sleeping experience.

If needed you may also consider using earplugs and an eye mask to block out noise and light during sleep.

Avoid Stimulating Activities Before Bed

Avoid engaging in stimulating activities before bed, such as exercise engaging in discussions, or watching thrilling movies.

These activities can make it more challenging for your body to relax and fall asleep.

Consider Over-the-Counter Medications

If you find yourself struggling with jet lag symptoms and none of the aforementioned methods provide relief it may be worth discussing over-the-counter sleep aids or supplements with your doctor.

That said, it's advisable to employ them as an option and restrict their usage to a period of time.

The Bottomline: A Doctor's Advice

Although jet lag is a transient condition, it could be unpleasant, particularly for those who’ve to travel a lot.

In my clinical practice, I am more often asked how to quickly recover or avoid jet lag altogether.

To recover from jet lag quickly, it's important to take care of your body and let it adapt naturally.

Make sure to establish a sleep routine, stay hydrated throughout your trip, and embrace sunlight when you reach your destination.

While you might consider using things like melatonin or sleep aids for relief, it's advisable to use them and seek advice from a healthcare professional if needed.

By following these tips you can make the most of your travel experience. Arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to embark on new adventures. Have a safe journey.

Enjoy a jet lag-free trip!

Jetlag FAQs

Should I Use Melatonin For Jet Lag?

Melatonin can be beneficial, for managing jet lag because it helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle and assists in adapting to a time zone.

I recommend consulting with your doctor and having an in-person evaluation before taking Melatonin.

Do Eye Masks Help For Jet Lag?

Indeed, wearing eye masks during flights can aid in combating jet lag by blocking out light and facilitating sleep.

Is Jet Lag Worse Flying East Or West?

When travelling eastward, jet lag tends to be more pronounced since it disrupts the body’s rhythm.

Are Any Groups Specifically Prone To Jet Lag?

Individuals who frequently traverse time zones, such as flight attendants and business travellers are more susceptible to experiencing the effects of jet lag.

Does Jet Lag Get Worse With Age?

Without a doubt recovering from jet lag can be more challenging as we grow older due to alterations in sleep patterns and a decline, in our ability to adapt to time zones.


1. Healthline. 8 Tips to Help Get Over Jet Lag.

2. Medical News Today. Jet lag: What it is and how to beat it.

3. Sleep Foundation. How To Get Over Jet Lag.