Jet lag is generally temporary and usually doesn't need treatment. Symptoms often improve within a few days, though they sometimes last longer.
However, if you're a frequent traveler continually bothered by jet lag, your doctor may prescribe medications or light therapy.
- Nonbenzodiazepines, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta) and zaleplon (Sonata)
- Benzodiazepines, such as triazolam (Halcion)
These medications — sometimes called sleeping pills — may help you sleep during your flight and for several nights afterward. Side effects are uncommon, but may include nausea, vomiting, amnesia, sleepwalking, confusion and morning sleepiness.
Although these medications appear to help sleep duration and quality, they may not lessen daytime symptoms of jet lag. These medications are usually only recommended for people who haven't been helped by other treatments.
Your body's internal clock or circadian rhythms are influenced by exposure to sunlight, among other factors. When you travel across time zones, your body must adjust to a new daylight schedule and reset, allowing you to fall asleep and be awake at the appropriate times.
If you're able, spend time outside in natural sunlight. If you can't, using light therapy can help. It involves exposure to an artificial bright light or lamp that simulates sunlight for a specific and regular amount of time when you're meant to be awake.
This may be useful, for example, if you're a business traveler and are often away from natural sunlight during the day in a new time zone. Light therapy comes in a variety of forms including a light box that sits on a table, a desk lamp that may blend in better in an office setting or a light visor that you wear on your head.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Use sunlight to reset your internal clock. It's the most powerful natural tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Plan ahead to determine the best times for light exposure based on your departure and destination points and overall sleep habits. Morning light exposure can usually help you adjust to an earlier time zone (traveling eastward), while evening light helps you adapt to a later time zone (traveling westward). Combining light exposure with exercise such as walking or jogging may help you adapt to the new time even faster.
Avoiding light at certain times is important too. For example, someone traveling west should avoid light in the morning on the first few days. During the day, dark glasses can help block out light. At night, draw the blinds or drapes in your hotel room or use a sleep mask.
Beverages with caffeine such as coffee, espresso and soft drinks may help offset daytime sleepiness. Choose caffeinated drinks wisely. Avoid caffeinated beverages after midday since caffeine consumed after that time may make it even more difficult to fall asleep or sleep well.
As a jet lag remedy and sleep aid, melatonin has been widely studied, and it's now a commonly accepted part of effective jet lag treatment. The latest research seems to show that melatonin aids sleep during times when you wouldn't normally be resting, making it beneficial for people with jet lag.
Your body treats melatonin as a darkness signal, and generally has the opposite effect of bright light.
The time at which you take melatonin is important. If you're trying to reset your body clock to a later time, such as after flying east, you should take melatonin at local bedtime nightly until you have become adapted to local time. If you're trying to reset your body clock to an earlier time, such as after flying west, melatonin should be taken in the morning.
Doses as small as 0.5 milligram seem just as effective as doses of 5 milligrams or higher, although higher doses have been shown by some studies to be more sleep promoting. If you use melatonin, take it 30 minutes before you plan to sleep or ask your doctor about the proper timing.
Avoid alcohol when taking melatonin. Side effects are uncommon but may include dizziness, headache, daytime sleepiness, loss of appetite, and possibly nausea and disorientation.
Additional possible remedies
Although diet hasn't been proven to help jet lag, some people use diets that alternate days of feasting and fasting and high-protein and low-protein meals. If such a diet seems too complicated, you can try eating more high-protein foods to stay alert and more carbohydrates when you want to sleep.
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 doctor first because some therapies may interact with other medications or cause side effects.