Jet lag is temporary and usually doesn't need treatment. Symptoms often improve within a few days, though they sometimes last longer.
If you're a frequent traveler bothered by jet lag, your health care provider may prescribe light therapy or medicines.
Your body's internal clock is influenced by sunlight, among other factors. When you travel across time zones, your body must adjust to a new daylight schedule. This allows you to fall asleep and be awake at the right times.
One way to adjust to a new daylight schedule is through light therapy. This involves exposure to an artificial bright light or lamp that mimics sunlight. You use the light for a specific amount of time when you're meant to be awake. Light therapy comes in a variety of forms, including a light box that sits on a table, a desk lamp or a light visor that you wear on your head.
Light therapy may be useful if you're a business traveler and are often away from natural sunlight during the day in a new time zone.
- Nonbenzodiazepines, such as zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, ZolpiMist), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata).
- Benzodiazepines, such as temazepam (Restoril) and midazolam (Nayzilam).
You can take these medicines — sometimes called sleeping pills — during your flight and for several nights afterward as you adjust to a new time zone. Side effects are uncommon but may include nausea, vomiting, amnesia, sleepwalking, confusion and morning sleepiness.
Although these medicines appear to help you sleep better and longer, you may still feel jet lag symptoms during the day. The medicines are usually only recommended for people who haven't been helped by other treatments.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Being exposed to sunlight helps reset your internal clock. It's the most powerful natural tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Morning light exposure can usually help you adjust to an earlier time zone after traveling east. Evening light helps you adapt to a later time zone after traveling west.
Plan ahead to determine the best times for light exposure based on your departure and destination points and overall sleep habits:
- Before your trip. You can start light therapy up to three days before traveling to help you adjust to the new time zone once you arrive. If you're traveling east, try waking one hour earlier than your usual wake time and get at least one hour of light exposure. Do this daily until you leave for your trip, waking one hour earlier each day. Also adjust your bedtime to one hour earlier each night if possible. For westward travel, delay your wake and bedtimes.
At your destination. If you've traveled east and crossed 3 to 5 time zones, try avoiding bright daylight first thing in the morning. Try to get several hours of bright light exposure in mid- to late morning.
If you're crossing more time zones or traveling west, avoid bright light the morning of arrival but seek sunshine in the early afternoon. During the day, dark glasses can help block out light when you need to avoid exposure. At night, draw the window blinds or drapes or use a sleep mask. For each day on your trip, gradually shift your light exposure earlier.
Combining light exposure with exercise such as walking or jogging may help you adapt to the new time even faster.
Beverages with caffeine such as coffee, espresso and soft drinks may help offset daytime sleepiness. Choose drinks with caffeine wisely. Don't have caffeine after midday since it may make it even harder to fall asleep or sleep well.
As a sleep aid, melatonin has been widely studied and is a common jet lag treatment. The latest research seems to show that melatonin aids sleep during times when you wouldn't typically be resting, making it beneficial for people with jet lag.
Your body treats melatonin as a darkness signal, so melatonin tends to have the opposite effect of bright light.
The time when you take melatonin is important. If you've flown east and need to reset your internal clock to an earlier schedule, take melatonin nightly in the new time zone. You can take it until you adjust to local time.
If you've flown west and need to reset your body's internal clock to a later schedule, take melatonin in the mornings in the new time zone until you adjust.
A dose as small as 0.5 milligram seems just as effective as a dose of 5 milligrams or higher, although some studies show that higher doses are better at making you sleep. Take melatonin 30 minutes before you plan to sleep. Or ask your health care provider about the proper timing.
Side effects are uncommon but may include dizziness, headaches, daytime sleepiness, loss of appetite, and possibly nausea and disorientation. Don't drink alcohol when taking melatonin.
Additional possible remedies
Some people use exercise to try to ease the effects of jet lag.
If you want to try an alternative therapy, such as an herbal supplement, be sure to check with your health care provider first. Some therapies may interact with other medicines or cause side effects.
Nov. 19, 2022