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Jet lag is when your normal sleep pattern is disturbed after a long flight. It usually improves within a few days as your body adjusts to the new time zone.
Ways to reduce jet lag
Jet lag cannot be prevented, but there are things you can do to reduce its effects.
Get plenty of rest before you travel. You could start going to bed and getting up earlier or later than usual (more like the time zone of the place you’re travelling to).
During your flight
- drink plenty of water
- keep active by stretching and regularly walking around the cabin
- try to sleep if it’s night time at your destination
- use an eye mask and earplugs if they help you sleep
- do not drink too much caffeine or alcohol – they can make jet lag worse
After you arrive
- change your sleep schedule to the new time zone as quickly as possible
- set an alarm to avoid oversleeping in the morning
- go outside during the day – natural light will help your body clock adjust
- do not sleep during the day – only sleep at night time
If your trip is short (2 to 3 days), try to eat and sleep at the times you would at home.
There’s no treatment for jet lag
Medicines are not usually needed for jet lag.
Jet lag often improves after a few days as your body clock adjusts to the new time zone.
Sleeping tablets may be helpful if you’re having problems sleeping (insomnia). But they can be addictive so should only be used for a short time and if symptoms are severe.
Melatonin is a natural hormone released by the body in the evening to let your brain know it’s time to sleep.
Melatonin tablets are not recommended for jet lag because there’s not enough evidence to show they work.
Symptoms of jet lag
The main symptoms of jet lag are:
- difficulty sleeping at bedtime and waking up in the morning
- tiredness and exhaustion
- difficulty staying awake during the day
- poor sleep quality
- concentration and memory problems
Jet lag can also sometimes cause dizziness, indigestion, nausea, constipation, changes in appetite and mild anxiety.
Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
Check if you have insomnia
You have insomnia if you regularly:
- find it hard to go to sleep
- wake up several times during the night
- lie awake at night
- wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
- still feel tired after waking up
- find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
- feel tired and irritable during the day
- find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired
If you have insomnia for a short time (less than 3 months) it’s called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts 3 months or longer is called long-term insomnia.
How much sleep you need
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep.
- adults need 7 to 9 hours
- children need 9 to 13 hours
- toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours
You probably do not get enough sleep if you’re constantly tired during the day.
What causes insomnia
The most common causes are:
- stress, anxiety or depression
- a room that’s too hot or cold
- uncomfortable beds
- alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
- recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
- jet lag
- shift work
Conditions and other things that can cause insomnia
How you can treat insomnia yourself
Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
- go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- relax at least 1 hour before bed, for example, take a bath or read a book
- make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet – use curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs if needed
- exercise regularly during the day
- make sure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
- do not smoke or drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed
- do not eat a big meal late at night
- do not exercise at least 4 hours before bed
- do not watch television or use devices, like smartphones, right before going to bed, because the bright light makes you more awake
- do not nap during the day
- do not drive when you feel sleepy
- do not sleep in after a bad night’s sleep and stick to your regular sleeping hours instead
How a pharmacist can help with insomnia
You can buy tablets or liquids (sometimes called sleeping aids) from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better.
Some contain natural ingredients (valerian, lavender or melatonin) while others, like Nytol, are an antihistamine.
They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for 1 to 2 weeks. They should not be taken for any longer.
Some of these products can have side effects, for instance, they may make you drowsy. This could make it difficult for you to do certain things like drive.
Check with your doctor before taking anything for your sleep problems.
Non-urgent advice:See a GP if:
- changing your sleeping habits has not worked
- you have had trouble sleeping for months
- your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope
Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP
It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:
- visit their website
- use the NHS App
- call them
Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19
Treatment from a GP
A GP will try to find out what’s causing your insomnia so you get the right treatment.
Sometimes you’ll be referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
This can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that keep you from sleeping.
You may be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.
GPs now rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia. Sleeping pills can have serious side effects and you can become dependent on them.
Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days, or weeks at the most, if:
- your insomnia is very bad
- other treatments have not worked
PLEASE NOTE ALL THE INFORMATION ABOVE IS FROM THE NHS WEBSITE.