What Are the Symptoms of Jet Lag and How Can You Treat and Prevent it?

Have you ever experience a jet lag symptom that totally ruined your vacation? I understand. The feeling can be annoying when you’re trying to get things done.

One might think that traveling frequently will make them immune to it. But here I am, a person who would from time-to-time fly through different time zones on a regular basis, and still find myself irritable and tired for up to 72 hours after landing.

Let me tell you, jet lag has immense potential to rain on your theme park vacation vibe and disrupt your trip.

Even when you get back home, it can take up to 10 days to fully recover from the trip.

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Does that mean you need to be wary of traveling? Not at all.

In my quest to find the best ways to deal with jet lag, I found several basic things you can do to avoid this sleeping disorder. While my post-flight headaches still feel pretty intense, the discomfort of changing time zones is easing with time.

I am slowly getting used to managing jet lag. You too can fly from South to North or East to West with little trouble.

In this guide, I will comprise all that I have learned about jet lag – its symptoms, its treatments, and even the ways to ease it. This joint effort post from me (NikkyJ a Pharmacist) and my travel writer (Ajit), will help you leave this article feeling confident about your trip. Even if you’re not traveling to any of the top theme parks.

After reading this guide, you will be able to sit back and relax without worrying about headaches, insomnia, or anxiety. All you will look forward to is spending amazing trips around the world.

Let’s get right into it!

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What Does Jet Lag Mean?

Jet lag is a condition that leads to tiredness, sleep disruptions and other symptoms caused by changes to your body when you travel between time zones. AKA “time zone change syndrome.”

The official name for it is Circadian Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder because most of the changes happens when your body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted.

Jetlag with woman on airplane with mask

How Does Jet Lag Affect the Body?

Circadian itself means approximately one day and represents your body’s way of circulating from night and day based on the Earth’s rotation every 24-hours.

Believe it or not, your circadian rhythm of sleep and wake and directly related to your melatonin and your core body temperature (CBT). Both melatonin and CBT change the amount of their presence based on the time of day.

Woman poolside recovering from jetlag

So, if you are on your “normal” circadian rhythm, then as your melatonin begins to increase (usually needed for bedtime rest), your CBT decreases (which is your alertness).

AND if your CBT and melatonin are all messed up, you’ll begin to experience the symptoms of jet lag.

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Symptoms of Jet Lag

The most-felt effect of jet lag is often fatigue. Although there’s more to it. The time zone change syndrome is a combination of multiple symptoms. They include:

  • Apathy
  • Concentration problems
  • Difficulty in decision making
  • Hard time falling asleep
  • Difficulty sleeping at bedtime
  • Trouble thinking
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Digestive trouble like constipation or diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Hypersomnia through the day
  • Impaired judgment
  • Irritability
  • Memory lapses
  • Poor sleep quality

Just keep in mind that some symptoms may be more noticeable than others especially on longer trips or with time zones that are significantly different than your main time zone.

Treatment for Jet Lag

Currently, there is no solid medical jet lag cure, at least at present. But you can do things to ease the symptoms to help you recover faster.

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Melatonin

This is a supplement that can help with your sleep related symptoms. Melatonin is a hormone that we naturally produce by a gland in our brain. If you take melatonin, it can help your body adjust quickly to the time zone you’re in.

The recommended dose of melatonin is 5 milligrams after dark each night about 1.5 to 2 hours before your bedtime.

Hipster Power Tip: Start taking your melatonin supplement (if okay with your doctor) up to 5 nights in your new time zone. You will usually not need to take anymore after the 5 doses to get in sync with the new time zone.

How to Prepare for Jet Lag

There are ways in which you can prepare for jet lag, reduce its impact, and recover quickly from it.

Quite a number of articles suggest fasting or eating certain diets, but they never seemed to have any effect.

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The easiest way to prevent jet lag is by slowly shifting your sleeping routine closer to the destination.

Here are some more tips to prevent jet lag:

  • Stay awake until it’s dark if you’re flying WEST
  • Reduce the amount of morning light if you’re flying EAST (you can do this by doing more activities in the afternoon and evenings)
  • Exercise at least once during the day
  • Eat your meals at the new time zone times

If the trip is impromptu and you don’t get enough time to make the shift, try to quickly rearrange your schedule so that you can get enough sleep before you leave.

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How to Choose the Best Flight to Prevent Jet Lag

You can reduce the impact this issue by picking the flight strategically. When making a booking to reach the destination, look for flights that will arrive at night.

The fatigue caused by flying will allow you to sleep easily. When making a booking to return home, search for flights that arrive early in the evening. This way, you will be able to stay awake before bedtime easily.

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There are also things you can do while on the flight to ease the symptoms of jet lag. These include:

  • Carrying an eye mask and earplugs to enhance sleeping conditions
  • Drinking herbal tea
  • Drinking plenty of water because dehydration can make jet lag worsen
  • If you are to arrive at nighttime, try to keep awake for a few hours before landing
  • In long-haul flights, try to plan sleep according to the time of the destination
  • Limiting caffeinated drinks to prevent dehydration and facilitate easy sleep
  • Maximizing comfort with a plush pillow that supports neck and head
  • Refraining from alcohol consumption
  • Stretching legs and walking whenever you can
  • Wearing comfortable, indoor clothing

Some of these jet lag tips might sound too basic, but carrying an eye mask and earplugs have proven very effective in my case. As simple as it sounds, buying earplugs specifically for flight lag never occurred to me.

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Adjusting to the New Time Zone

Waiting around to recover from jet lag can eat up a lot of vacation time or turn into a hectic first day at the office after returning from the trip. The best thing to do is try and get used to the new zone quickly.

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How to Get Used to a New Time Zone:

  1. Exposure to Sunlight: The sun’s light can assist your body clock to reset. It is the cue to staying awake. If you can, go outdoor during prime daylight hours once you get to the location.
  2. Light therapy: Keeping the lights on can be a cue for the body to stay up. You can use lamps and visors during drowsy hours so your body can better adjust. On the contrary, dim lights an hour before bedtime to facilitate sleep.
  3. Hot bath and milk: Taking a hot bath and drinking hot milk before going to bed can help your body relax and fall asleep faster.
  4. Consider planning an extra day: If you are planning a 10-day trip, add another day to use it for the sole purpose of resting and getting adjusted to the new time zone. If you are to rejoin the office on 10th November, come back on the 8th to give your body at least a day to settle down.
  5. Exercise: Physical movement, be it jogging or skipping rope, has the ability to refresh the mind. Indulging in such (outdoor) activities will help you stay awake without much strain.
  6. Pamper yourself: This jet lag tip can prove beneficial to those suffering from anxiety, depression, and stress. You could pamper yourself with bubble baths, spas, and massages to ease these feelings. Installing meditation apps and carrying stress balls on flights can also make a difference.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s go through a few of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to jetlag.

How long can jet lag last?

Jet lag can last up to 10 days but should disappear within two weeks.

Can jet lag cause flu-like symptoms?

Besides fatigue and insomnia, jet lag can cause emotional and physical symptoms like confusion, headache, and vomiting. This in turn can cause fever and sweating that feel like flu.

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Should I nap when jetlagged?

When experiencing jet lag, a power nap of up to 30 minutes can prove to be beneficial. It will give you enough energy to stay awake throughout the day without hampering your sleep at night.

Symptoms of Jet Lag with Airplane flying over Palm Trees overlooking Disney Cinderella Castle
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Let’s Wrap It Up

The symptoms of jet lag can easily put a damper on your vacation mood. Don’t let this time zone change syndrome get between you and your love for traveling. I get it! London to Florida can make anyone anxious.

But with the jet lag tips in this guide, you will be able to reduce its impact significantly. Most of the suggestions are tried-and-tested, thus reliable.

They are easy to follow, require no extra money, and include no medicines. It is true you cannot avoid jet lag, but you can totally conquer it!

Bon voyage!

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