The infamous jet lag can be a major drag on traveling. Whether it’s hitting you hard on vacation and making it difficult to relax and have fun. Or it’s hitting you hard when you get home and are left aboard the struggle bus trying to reintegrate with your daily life.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

  • fatigue
  • mood change
  • lack of focus
  • stomach issues
  • trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning

Obviously these symptoms can be attributed to jet lag specifically when you’ve traveled across time zones. Your jet lag is probably going to be worse and last longer the more time zones you travel, too. Also, oftentimes it’s worse when you travel east – as opposed to west.

Asian girl sleeping in her seat on the plane near the window with her mouth open and in a mask and with a neck pillow to sleep, trying to avoid jetlag.

Why do we get jet lag?

When you are living your day to day life, your body is adjusted to the specific rhythm of the day. That’s why you’ll get hungry at your usual times, tired at your usual times, wake up (when you don’t have that alarm set) at your usual times. This body system is known as the circadian rhythm. When you travel to a different time zone, especially one that’s pretty significantly different from your home life, you throw off your body’s whole understanding of when it should want anything. Your circadian rhythm is primarily affected by lightness and darkness. This is why you will adapt after some days to a new time zone.

Can I avoid getting jet lag?

Honestly, probably not. At least not entirely. Your body is going to be in for a rude awakening when you totally change up your schedule. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up and accept that you’ll be in for a terrible time! Some things you can do ahead of time to minimize how bad your jet lag will be are:

  • Some suggest gradually switching your schedule to the new time zone while you’re still at home. So going to bed a little earlier/later, waking up a little earlier/later over the course of days. Realistically though, the days before traveling are already hectic enough trying to pack and prepare so we’re not sure how worthwhile this really is.
  • Drinks lots of water and stay hydrated in the days before and during your travel. Also, maybe cut back on the alcohol and caffeine, if no more than just for the flight. These can a) dehydrate you, counteracting on all the water intake you’ve increased and b) make it harder for you to comfortably adjust to a new time zone.
  • Plan ahead. Start thinking about what time it is in your destination compared to your current location in the days before traveling. Think through what time it will be there. when you’d normally be hungry for lunch or ready to go to sleep. Set a goal for how you’re going to adjust. Whether it’s a small midday nap, sleeping on the flight, or powering through staying awake you want to know what you’re doing before it’s time to do it.
  • Start your journey well rested. It won’t do you any good if you’re already exhausted and then even more so when the jet lag kicks in. 

How long will my jet lag last?

Some sources say that jet lag going east-to-west will last ⅔ days of the number of time zones you traveled across and that traveling west-to-east is a one to one ratio. So like if you flew three time zones west, you’d feel jet lagged for 2 days, but then when you fly back you’ll be jet lagged for 3 days. Honestly, we’re calling bs on this. Jet lag is going to last as long as you let it last. If you fly across 9 time zones for a vacation, you aren’t going to spend that entire vacation feeling gross and tired – unless you let it.

Friends walking arm and arm happy along the beach.

How to not let jet lag ruin your vacation:

  • Sleep on your flight, but only if it’s night time in the place where you are going.
  • Stay hydrated – you don’t need even more issues.
  • Take a midday nap if you need – just don’t sleep until it’s night time and you should actually be going to sleep.
  • Try and spend as much time in the sunlight as possible as you are adjusting to the new time zone.
  • Have some snacks on you in your hotel room at night – you might wake up at midnight hungry and that’s totally okay, but you don’t want to then be left awake the rest of the night laying in hunger.
  • If you need it, have melatonin or another sleep aid on hand – this can be especially helpful going west-to-east when it will be the time zone’s bedtime before the bedtime your body’s used to.
  • Do your best to eat at the standard eating times of your new destination, but if you aren’t hungry don’t force it either.

East or west? Which is worse?

Jet lag when you’ve traveled east is usually worse than traveling west. Our bodies seem to be better at prolonging our days when the west is still up and active versus your days at home. Because of this, there are some differences in how you should deal with your jet lag depending on which way you traveled. The main thing is that if you traveled west you can probably get over the difference mainly by forcing yourself to stay awake in the evening until a reasonable bedtime hour for yourself. Then the next morning you should be right about on local schedule. 

However if you’re traveling east, you’re probably going to still feel wide awake at a normal bedtime hour, making this transition harder. If you can tire yourself out that first day by spending lots of time being active or in the sunshine, this might help. Also, some form of a sleep aid like melatonin or a chamomile tea, etc. can be helpful too. Basically, whatever it is you need to calm yourself down could be helpful. If all else fails and you’re up really late, do not sleep in late too. This will make your jet lag drag on. And you’ll miss out on good daylight time that you could be spending doing stuff with your trip.

Two boho dressed girls walk along a European street, happy together because they do not have jet lag.

In summary…

Jet lag is bound to happen to you, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean you need to let it ruin your fun. If you take action to get yourself on a new time zone smoother, your jet lag will go away. With some planning, strategic napping, hydration, and sunshine – you’re sure to adapt to the new time zone in no time. And get right back to having fun traveling!