Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Jet lag

4-minute read

If you've been on a long flight and changed time zones, jet lag might make you feel tired and lethargic. It can take 1 day to recover for every hour’s difference between the time at your departure and arrival points. Here are some tips to minimise the symptoms of jet lag.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is the result of quickly crossing several time zones. Your body’s natural sleep rhythms are disrupted so they are no longer aligned with the outside world.

Jet lag affects everybody, but it can become more of a problem as you get older because you take longer to recover. For many people it’s worse when they fly from west to east, because that means they are moving forward in time and in the opposite direction to the sun, so the time difference develops more quickly.

What causes jet lag?

The body's urges to eat and sleep are controlled by circadian rhythms – a type of internal 'body clock' set by hormones such as melatonin that are released by the brain. Jet lag happens when your body takes time to adjust its circadian rhythms to a new time zone.

It means your body tells you it’s time to sleep when in the new time zone it’s only afternoon, or your body keeps you wide awake in the middle of the night. The more time zones you cross, the worse your jet lag will be.

Jet lag symptoms

The main symptom of jet lag is that you feel very tired during the day and find it hard to sleep at night.

Other common symptoms include:

The symptoms will gradually get better as your body adjusts to the new time zone. It’s important to take care when driving if you have jet lag.

How to reduce the symptoms of jet lag

There is no cure for jet lag, but there is a lot you can do to make yourself feel better.

The best way to reset your sleep/wake cycle is to go outside into the sunlight and do some exercise. If you have travelled eastward, get some sunshine in the early morning. If you have travelled westward, aim for sunlight in the evening. Make sure you keep the room as dark as possible when you try to sleep at night.

For the first few days, take short naps to help you stay more alert. Make sure you nap for no more than 30 minutes, and that you are awake for at least 4 hours before bed time.

Caffeine in tea and coffee can help keep you awake, but don’t drink too much because you won’t be able to sleep later. Limit alcohol too, since as it prevents you from sleeping well at night.

Taking melatonin at night can help reset your body clock. There are also several remedies available from a pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist about the best one for you.

As a last resort, sleeping pills can help you sleep. But be careful because taking sleeping pills can quickly become a habit.

Preventing jet lag

If you are only going to be away for a few days, consider keeping to your home schedule for eating and sleeping. If you are going to be away for longer, try to adjust to the new time zone as soon as possible – while you are on the plane.

It is often better if you time your flight to arrive at night, and consider a stopover if it’s a long trip.

Make sure you drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine during the flight – dehydration can make jet lag worse.

If you take medication, talk to your doctor before the trip about managing your medicines when you travel. If you are very badly affected by jet lag, or if you have a job which means you suffer from jet lag a lot, it might be worth seeing a sleep specialist.

More information

For more information about jet lag and how to sleep better, visit the Sleep Health Foundation website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Jet lag: how to avoid it - myDr.com.au

Spending a few hours travelling by air can make you feel low, tired and lethargic. This is called jet lag.

Read more on myDr website

Jet lag | HealthEngine Blog

Jet lag, also known as circadian dysynchronism or flight dysrhythmia, is a temporary condition caused by rapid air travel across multiple time zones. It is characterised by disturbed sleep patterns, fatigue, insomnia and irritability, which develop because of the bodys inability to adapt to the new time zone.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Jet lag - Better Health Channel

If you suffer badly from jet lag, it may be worthwhile considering a westerly travel route if possible.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Tips to Help Combat Jet Lag

If you are away from home for a only a day or two, try to eat when you would usually eat at home, try to sleep when you would usually sleep at home and try to not go outside when it is dark at home.

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleep and Rest over the Festive Season | HealthEngine Blog

Many people will find themselves burnt out after the festive season instead of refreshed and ready for another working year. Use the time to revitalise yourself, relax and spend quality time with your loved ones.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Melatonin

What is melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin levels vary in 24 hour cycles and are controlled by our body clock. Normally its production is reduced by being in bright light. Levels increase at night. This is why it is often called the hormone of darkness

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleeping Better in Your Hotel

1. Get the Environment RightYour room should be quiet. Hotel rooms are usually well sound proofed to help you sleep well. Use the do not disturb sign to prevent unwanted interruptions and take care with the time you set on your alarm clock for the morning. Ear plugs may help if you have a noisy partner.&nbs

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Fatigue as an Occupational Hazard

Do sleepiness and fatigue mean the same thing?Often people use them as if they do mean the same thing. Both are linked with feeling "tired", but are two distinct conditions.Sleepiness is when you feel that you need or want to sleep. It happens because of not getting enough good quality sleep. Sl

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleep - narcolepsy - Better Health Channel

A person with narcolepsy is extremely sleepy all the time and may fall asleep several times a day.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Staying Healthy During Plane Travel | HealthEngine Blog

Staying Healthy During Plane Travel - Information on Health problems related to travelling on a plane and how to avoid these conditions, written by health professionals.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo