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Understanding Jet Lag

Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment Of Jet Lag

Dr. Joel Warsh Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Joel Warsh on June 23, 2021

Jet lag is sometimes also referred to as jet lag disorder, and it can generally be understood as a temporary sleeping issue that impacts people who travel across several different time zones.

Essentially, jet lag happens because traveling through multiple different time zones disrupts your body’s internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm.

Your internal clock is what tells your body when it is time to stay awake and when it is time to go to sleep, and when you travel to a time zone that is different from your home time zone, your body’s internal clock is still synced with your home time zone and thus does not adjust properly to the new time.

Jet lag can cause a host of symptoms, with the most commonly reported symptoms being fatigue and sleeping disturbances while your body learns to synchronize with the daylight cycle of your new location.

The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to experience jet lag, and the more severe your symptoms may be.

Jet lag can take a toll on your body in a variety of ways and may cause symptoms beyond fatigue and tiredness that leave you down for the count for a few days. Fortunately, there are some ways to manage your jet lag symptoms, and there are even a few different approaches you can take ahead of time that may minimize the symptoms you end up experiencing.

This is your complete guide to all things pertaining to jet lag, including what it is and why it happens, what symptoms you may experience, and what you can do to minimize your discomfort and find some relief.

What Causes Jet Lag? What Are the Symptoms?

If you are traveling across time zones, you may want to be prepared for an onset of symptoms known as jet lag, which happen when you change time zones and your body’s internal clock does not adjust properly.

Symptoms of jet lag usually kick in within a day or two after you change time zones, and they typically hit hardest for those who have traveled through at least two different time zones. It generally takes around one day per time zone crossed for symptoms to start to resolve, but symptoms can persist for several days or even weeks.

In your home time zone, your body’s internal clock known as your circadian rhythm synchronizes with the local 24-hour day so that you can have better quality sleep as well as improved health overall.

Because the sun rises and sets at different times in different places, people who live in different locations have different internal clocks that are synchronized with their local time. Your circadian rhythm aligns with the daylight wherever you are so that you stay alert during the day and asleep at night, and when you switch time zones this internal clock gets interrupted.

Risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing jet lag include:

  • The number of time zones you are crossing to get to your destination time zone, since crossing more time zones puts you at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms
  • Whether or not you are flying east
  • Whether or not you are a frequent flyer
  • Being an older adult, which means it may take you longer to recover from jet lag symptoms
  • Whether or not you slept well in the days leading up to your travel
  • Your stress levels
  • Your consumption of alcohol or caffeine, as higher levels of consumption may exacerbate symptoms
  • Whether or not you have a past history of jet lag

Jet lag can cause a host of symptoms, and the specific symptoms or combination of symptoms experienced can vary from person to person. Common symptoms associated with jet lag include:

  • Disruption of sleep and poor sleep quality: Jet lag can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, or it may become very difficult to wake up when you want to due to fatigue. Jet lag can also cause you to only be able to sleep in fragmented amounts of time. Not to mention — jet lag can negatively affect existing insomnia and other sleeping disorders due to additional sleep disturbances on top of an already inconsistent sleep schedule.
  • Daytime sleepiness: One of the most common symptoms of jet lag is fatigue or tiredness during the day while your body adjusts to your new time zone.
  • Impaired thinking and difficulty concentrating: Jet lag can cause some issues with memory and attention, or you may just feel like your thinking has slowed down. It may also be difficult to concentrate while you are experiencing jet lag.
  • Impaired physical performance: Aside from your cognitive function being impaired, jet lag can also take a toll on your physical functioning. Your body may feel tired and fatigued, thus impacting your peak physical performance which is especially noticeable for athletes.
  • Emotional difficulties: Jet lag can also mess with your emotions and may leave you with agitation and irritability, and some evidence even suggests that jet lag may exacerbate symptoms of mental health disorders and mood problems.
  • General feeling of illness: Generally feeling ill or malaise is another common symptom of jet lag. Malaise entails overall feelings of illness, discomfort, or uneasiness.
  • Stomach issues: Stomach issues or gastrointestinal problems can also result from jet lag, and jet lag may lead to symptoms like reduced appetite or loss of appetite, nausea, constipation, and other bowel troubles.
  • Sleep paralysis and seizures: Though rare, jet lag can sometimes also lead to more serious symptoms such as sleep paralysis and seizures.

Jet Lag Versus Travel Fatigue: What’s the Difference?

Travel fatigue is another common issue experienced by travelers, and while it is often mistaken for jet lag, these two things are not one and the same and knowing the difference can help you better understand what may be causing your symptoms and what you can do to find relief.

Travel fatigue is a regular part of doing any kind of travel, and it entails general feelings of tiredness that result from the rushed and chaotic feelings associated with traveling as well as the fact that the physical act of traveling can take a toll.

Feeling wiped out after a long day of traveling is more likely to be caused by travel fatigue than by jet lag, especially if you are not experiencing any other symptoms.

Travel fatigue does not disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, and thus, you will typically feel better after getting a good night of sleep. On the other hand, jet lag does interfere with your circadian rhythm and can last for weeks in some cases. Travel fatigue will go away on its own usually after just one night of resting, but jet lag is not quite as easy to get rid of.

Circadian Rhythm: What Is It, and Why Is It So Important?

Your circadian rhythm sleep-wake cycle is what regulates your sleeping and waking times, and when your sleep-wake cycle is properly aligned can help promote restful sleep. The term “circadian” comes from the Latin phrase “circa diem,” which means “around a day.”

In humans, there are several types of circadian rhythms, and these “body clocks” work to help coordinate your physical and mental systems such that your physical and mental health is well supported. Aside from your sleeping schedule, your circadian rhythms also work to help regulate your digestive system’s production of proteins to match the typical timing of your meals, and they also help support your endocrine system’s regulation of hormones so that your energy levels can be maintained.

Your body’s circadian rhythms are connected to your body’s master clock which is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus in your brain’s hypothalamus. At different points during the day, clock genes in this part of your brain send signals to help regulate different activities in your body. Your suprachiasmatic nucleus is also very sensitive to light, and this is part of the way that your body’s sleep-wake cycle becomes regulated.

During the daytime when the sun is out, being exposed to the light tells your master clock to send signals of alertness throughout your body in order to keep you awake at the right time. Alternatively, when nighttime rolls around, your body’s master clock begins to produce melatonin, which is the hormone that works to promote sleep.

How Can I Minimize Jet Lag After Traveling?

If you are planning to travel across several different time zones, there are a few things you can do that may help minimize the jet lag symptoms you experience when you arrive at your destination.

Before traveling, you should take care to:

  • Get sufficient exercise in the days leading up to your trip
  • Get plenty of good quality sleep in the days leading up to your trip
  • Eat regular, healthful, well-balanced meals in the days prior to your departure
  • Begin working to adjust your body’s internal clock to your destination’s time zone a few days before your trip. If you are going to be traveling west, you should aim to go to bed an hour or two later than usual, and if you are planning on traveling east, you should try to go to bed an hour or two earlier than usual. This can help your body get used to the time change, and you may also want to consider planning your arrival such that you do not have any important events to attend for the first couple of days in your destination.

Additionally, if you have had jet lag plenty of times in the past and know that you are particularly susceptible to it, it may be helpful to consult your doctor before you trip and inquire about medications or products that may help relieve your symptoms and help you sleep when jet lag strikes.

There are also a few things you can do while you are traveling in order to minimize the impact of jet lag:

  • Avoid large meals, alcoholic beverages, and caffeine while you are traveling, as these may exacerbate symptoms of jet lag
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water in order to stay adequately hydrated while traveling
  • If you are on a particularly long flight, it may be beneficial to get up periodically and take short walks
  • Try to get some sleep while you are on the plane, but do not use alcohol as a means of inducing sleep on your flight if you are having trouble falling asleep.

Following this, once you finally arrive at your destination, there are a few more things you should take into consideration that might help you regain some control over your jet lag symptoms.

The following things may help:

  • Try to schedule meetings or activities for a few days after your arrival so that you have a little bit of time to recover from jet lag symptoms
  • Aim to eat your meals at the appropriate local time, as this may help your body adjust more quickly
  • Try to spend plenty of time outside in the sunlight, because this exposure to light helps inform your body’s internal clock about the new time zone — access as much natural daylight as you can, especially in the first few days at your destination
  • Continue to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine until your body has adjusted

If you find yourself feeling very tired during the day, it can be beneficial to take short naps of around 20 to 30 minutes rather than allowing yourself to sleep through the daytime — taking short naps like this can help you feel a little more alert during the day without ruining your chances of getting to sleep during the night as well

How To Treat Jet Lag If You Already Have It

If you are already experiencing jet lag, methods of prevention will not do you any good, but there are still a few things you can try that may bring you some relief from your symptoms.

Natural Methods of Finding Relief

When you are struggling to get through jet lag, light exposure is arguably the most important part of helping your body realign itself with your new time zone, and natural light as opposed to artificial light can work wonders. Even if it is cloudy outside, your body still gets exposed to sunlight, and this sunlight is a critical signal that your brain interprets in order to regulate your internal clock.

Thus, getting plenty of natural sunlight for the first few days after your arrival is one of the best ways to speed up your recovery time. Artificial light, too, plays a part in this process, and you should keep this in mind so that you remember to avoid looking at electronic screens when it is time for you to sleep.

Medication For Jet Lag Symptoms

Making use of melatonin and other sleep aids can also be immensely helpful when it comes to regulating your sleep-wake cycle after traveling.

Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces in response to darkness, and this hormone helps tell your body that it is time to go to sleep. Because jet lag interferes with your circadian rhythm sleep-wake cycle, it interferes with your melatonin production, too, and taking melatonin supplements at certain times may help you regulate your sleeping schedule again.

However, melatonin can cause side effects like grogginess and stomach issues for some people, and it is known to cause daytime sleepiness in the morning after you take it. Thus, this may not be ideal if you are already trying to fight off daytime sleepiness being caused by jet lag.

Natural nighttime sleep aids are usually melatonin-free, making it a great alternative to melatonin if you want a product aimed at improving sleep quality organically. Look for remedies with ingredients that appear on the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States.

Prescription sleeping pills are another option when it comes to medication, and these have been studied specifically for the purpose of relieving jet lag. Taking prescription sleeping pills before the appropriate local bedtime once you arrive at your destination may be an effective way to combat jet lag, but you should be aware that many prescription sleeping pills can cause side effects such as headaches, dizziness, confusion, and stomach issues like feeling sick to your stomach. Additionally, prescription sleeping pills do have a risk of dependence, so you should proceed with caution.

That said, there are some alternatives to conventional medicine that can bring you great results without the same risk of adverse effects like dependency.

Homeopathic jet lag formulas are typically melatonin-free so you can get the relief you deserve without having to worry about experiencing daytime drowsiness the next day. Look for products formulated with clean and natural ingredients included on the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States to bring you relief from common jet lag symptoms like fatigue, mood changes, loss of appetite, and nausea.

The Benefits of Homeopathic Medicine For Jet Lag Symptoms

Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine or homeopathic remedies, is a medical practice that is based around the idea that the body is capable of healing itself, and thus views illness and symptoms as the body’s way of healing itself.

Homeopathic remedies mostly focus on the use of natural ingredients such as herbs and plants in order to target the symptoms that a person is experiencing, and because these remedies focus on healthful ingredients, there may be fewer side effects associated with using a homeopathic remedy than with using stronger, conventional forms of medicine, such as prescription sleeping pills.

Homeopathy can be used, and has long been used, to treat a wide range of diseases and health conditions, but it has also been used to address minor, everyday ailments and symptoms, and thus it may be beneficial for the treatment of symptoms caused by jet lag as well.

Homeopathic remedies have been regulated in the United States for decades and are largely regarded as very safe, so you can opt for a homeopathic remedy without having to worry that you might end up with a host of adverse effects that you were not expecting.

That being said, if you are looking for a product to help ease your symptoms of jet lag that will not introduce new problems into the mix, a homeopathic remedy may be just the thing you need.

Proper Usage of Jet Lag Medications

When you are using any form of medication to treat jet lag, including melatonin, prescription sleeping pills, homeopathic remedies, or other supplements or vitamins, it is important to consult your doctor and let them know what products you are using.

Certain products may not be recommended for use by patients with some health conditions, and some products also might not be safe for use by people who are taking certain medications.

Because your doctor is somewhat familiar with your medical history and any health conditions you may be dealing with, they will be able to give you any information that pertains to your individual situation.

Reading and Understanding The Drug Facts Label

Whenever you are using any kind of over the counter medicine or remedy, it is critical for you to carefully read the Drug Facts label. This label contains important information regarding safe usage of the product in question, including what the medicine is intended for, who should or should not be using it, and how you can use it properly.

This label also includes other important information, and the information will appear in this order on the label:

  • Any active ingredients included in the product, as well as what amount of these ingredients is included in each dose of the medicine
  • The intended purpose of the product
  • The uses of the product
  • Any specific warnings that are relevant to the product
  • Including any cases where the product should not be used under any circumstances, and when you may need to consult a doctor or pharmacist before using the product
  • This section of the label will also explain any potential side effects that you may experience as a result of using the product, as well as any other substances or activities that you should be avoiding while using the medicine
  • Dosage instructions, including how much of the medicine you should take as one dose, and how often a dose should be taken
  • Any inactive ingredients included in the product, as well as any important information regarding these ingredients that may help customers avoid allergic reactions or other adverse reactions as a result of ingesting inactive ingredients
  • This section of the label is specifically important if you already know that you are allergic to certain ingredients commonly used as inactive ingredients in commercially available products, and you should carefully read this list to make sure there are no allergens in the product before you use it

Aside from carefully following the instructions and guidelines included in this section, you should consult your doctor if anything is unclear or if you have further questions. You can never be too safe, and there is no shame in asking questions if there is something you do not understand, especially when it comes to your health and safety.

Using a product properly is also an important part of achieving your desired results, and taking too much of a product in hopes of speeding up your results could actually leave you feeling worse than you felt before.

When it comes to taking medicine to treat jet lag, you should precisely follow the dosage instructions in order to get the best results possible, and you should never stray from these guidelines unless you have been specifically told to do so by your doctor.

All of this being said, medications and over the counter remedies can be highly effective at bringing you relief from your jet lag symptoms as long as you use your medicine properly.

The Bottom Line

Jet lag can take an immense toll on your body, and it happens when you take a trip out of your home time zone and into a new time zone. More specifically, jet lag is generally believed to be the worst if you cross through 2 or more varying time zones, and doing this can increase both the duration and severity of your symptoms.

Jet lag happens because your body’s internal clock has grown accustomed to your home time zone.

Essentially, your master clock and circadian rhythm become synchronized with the daylight where you live, and exposure to light tells your brain to send signals that keep you awake and alert during the daytime. Alternatively, when it is dark outside, this signals your body to begin producing melatonin, which is a hormone that works to promote restful sleep during the night.

When you travel into a different time zone, your body is still synchronized with your old time zone, and this is what leads to the unpleasant symptoms characteristic of jet lag.

Jet lag can be highly unpleasant and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, but there are several things you can do to help prevent jet lag or at least help minimize the symptoms you experience.

When it comes to preventing jet lag, taking great care of your body and wellbeing in the days leading up to your trip may help minimize or prevent your symptoms. You can take great care of yourself by making sure to get plenty of sleep, getting enough exercise, and eating regular, well-balanced and healthful meals a few days before your flight. Additionally, while you are traveling you should try to avoid alcohol and caffeine and instead focus on drinking plenty of water in order to stay well-hydrated. You should also try to fall asleep on the plane if possible.

There are also certain medications and remedies aimed at improving symptoms of jet lag, and trying out melatonin or prescription sleeping pills may bring you some form of relief when it comes to your sleeping schedule, but both of these options do have some risks. Melatonin is infamous for causing next-day drowsiness, which may not be ideal if you are trying to get rid of the tiredness you are already feeling. Homeopathic remedies Genexa may be a more ideal, effective, way of finding some relief.


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