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Travel Advice - The perils of jet lag

Skip to recommendations for accommodating jet lag

Jet lag  is caused by rapidly crossing time zones and getting out of synch with the rhythms of day and night at your home base.

According to medical specialists, the body’s internal clock (known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus [SCN)] located in the hypothalmus) takes its timing clues from sunlight. When  travel takes you across time zones, your internal clock becomes confused, as its frame of reference unexpectedly changes. In general, jet lag is more severe when you travel to the east (against the movement of the sun) and increases in severity in response to the number of time zones crossed during your flight.

Common symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and the inability to reason simple problems, such as making change. The symptoms of jet lag vary in intensity and duration, but usually dissipate over a two or three-day period.

The medical recommendation for adjusting to jet lag is to take one day of rest to catch up with each time zone crossed. Most of us do not have enough vacation time to follow the recommended procedure and must learn to modify our travel behavior to accommodate jet lag.


Many international journeys begin with an overnight flight that often results in being robbed of a refreshing night’s sleep. When you add sleeplessness to jet lag , you have the ingredients for a very bad day. Although you cannot avoid jet lag, you can accommodate it.  


Our recommendations for avoiding or tempering Jet Lag are as follows:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks on the flight. Consuming either may contribute to more severe jet lag.
  • Try to get to sleep earlier than usual the night before a long distance trip in an easterly direction.  Doing so will help the body begin to prepare for coping with day and night pattern changes.
  • Once you have boarded the plane, set your watch to the local time at your destination.
    • To the extent possible, try to align your schedule to the local schedule. For example, if you are flying from Chicago to London on an overnight flight, eat a light dinner as soon as possible and, then, turn in for the night, since it will be the middle of the night in London.
  • If you can sleep on planes, catch as much sleep as you can. Even if you do not sleep well on airplanes, try to catch a nap.
    • Take off your shoes, wear a sleeping mask, cover yourself with a blanket, and focus on relaxing.
    •  If you cannot sleep, try meditation or mindfulness to calm yourself.
    • In any event, do whatever you can to relax as completely as possible.
  • If traveling internationally, do not plan an active first day. Instead, try to limit the amount of additional travel (especially driving).
  • If your international flight arrives early in the morning, try to prearrange an early check-in at your hotel. If you can get into your room early, do so.
    • Once settled, get under the covers and take a brief nap of no more than one hour. No cheating! Sleeping any longer than an hour will exacerbate jet lag.
    •  After your nap, walk and sightsee the rest of the day. Eat dinner at the local mealtime, then, return to your hotel, and hit the sack no earlier than 9 PM.
    • Set your alarm to wake you at seven or eight but no later (it is likely that you will be up before then). If you follow our recommendations, you should wake the next morning in good shape.
  • If your international flight arrives in the morning but you cannot check in early, then leave your luggage at the hotel and walk and sightsee until your room is available.
    •  If you are going to eat, do so at the local meal times. Return to the hotel as soon as you can get your room and take a one-hour nap.
    • Do not take a nap after three in the afternoon or you will find it difficult to sleep at bedtime.
    • Set your alarm as described above.
  • If your international flight arrives mid-day, stay the course and do not sleep (not even a nap) until 9 or 10 that night.
    • Eat meals at local meal times.
    • Set your alarm as described above.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol on your first day, as doing so will generally help you fall into a deep slumber when you finally hit the hay.

Recent research suggests that exercising during your flight and upon arrival at your destination will help to retard jet lag.

Many travelers claim that taking Melatonin helps reduce jet lag. We are not yet  convinced that taking Melatonin is beneficial and recommend that you discuss taking it with your physician prior to use.

Getting into the “local swing of things” right from the start of your vacation helps combat jet lag.  Have dinner at local dinnertime and retire at a reasonable bedtime based on the local clock, not your clock back at home.

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