Offices & Resources

Coping with Jet Lag

Jet lag is considered a temporary sleep disorder among travelers who travel long distances and rapidly cross multiple time zones. While Jet Lag is a reality for our international students there are ways that you can mitigate and battle the effects. Being aware and proactive are your best resources. Most importantly, however, is that you should immediately seek help from health services if your sleep disruption is impacting your ability to participate fully in your school requirements. Missing appointments or classes because of jet lag is not acceptable or sustainable.

According to the CDC website eastward travel is associated with difficulty falling asleep at the destination bedtime and difficulty waking up in the morning. Westward travel is associated with early evening sleepiness and predawn awakening at the travel destination. Crossing more time zones or traveling eastward generally increases the time required for adaptation. After eastward flights, jet lag lasts for the number of days roughly equal to two-thirds the number of time zones crossed; after westward flights, the number of days is roughly half the number of time zones.

Jet lagged travelers experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Poor sleep, including delayed sleep onset (after eastward flight), early awakening (after westward flight), and fractionated sleep (after flights in either direction)
  • Poor performance in physical and mental tasks during the new daytime
  • Negative subjective changes such as fatigue, headache, irritability, stress, inability to concentrate, and depression
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances and decreased interest in and enjoyment of meals

Travelers can minimize jet lag by doing the following before travel:

  • Exercise, eat a healthful diet, and get plenty of rest.
  • Begin to reset the body clock by shifting the timing of sleep to 1–2 hours later for a few days before traveling westward and shifting the timing of sleep to 1–2 hours earlier for a few days before traveling eastward. It can also be helpful to shift mealtimes to hours that coincide with these changes.
  • Seek exposure to bright light in the evening if traveling westward, in the morning if traveling eastward.
  • Break up a long journey with a stopover, if possible.

Travelers should do the following during travel:

  • Avoid large meals and caffeine.
  • Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.
  • Move around on the plane to promote mental and physical acuity, as well as protect against deep vein thrombosis.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
  • Sleep, if possible, during long flights.

Travelers should do the following on arrival at the destination:

  • Avoid situations requiring critical decision-making, such as important meetings, for the first day after arrival.
  • Adapt to the local schedule as soon as possible.
  • Optimize exposure to sunlight after arrival from either direction. Exposure to bright light in the morning moves the stage of circadian rhythm forward, while exposure to light in the evening delays the stage and encourages later sleep.
  • Eat meals appropriate to the local time, drink plenty of water, and avoid excess caffeine. Eat a balanced diet, including carbohydrates.
  • Take short naps (20–30 minutes) to increase energy but not undermine nighttime sleep.