What Causes Jetlag & How Can You Manage It

what causes jet lag

Jet lag, which is also referred to as 'jet lag disorder', 'flight fatigue' or desynchronosis, is a purely temporary sleep disorder that affects people who travel across different time zones very quickly. 

Your internal clock, scientifically referred to as circadian rhythms, sends messages out to our body to stay awake or go to sleep at the times it intends. When you travel, your clock is still aligned with the time zone in which you came from and has not adjusted to the time zone you are travelling to. 

"What causes jetlag?" has been a question on many people's minds for a long period which is why we are here to provide the answers. 

The Common Symptoms of Jet Lag

Like with many disorders and illnesses, everyone experiences them differently but, there are some general effects of jet lag that you are bound to experience. 

These can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Waking up early
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Difficulty in functioning at your usual level
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • A general feeling of being unwell 
  • Mood swings

You might experience one or several of these symptoms. Do not be alarmed if you are experiencing all of them at different points, as we mentioned earlier, it is temporary.

What Causes Jet Lag

There are a few key factors that cause jet lag. 

Circadian Rhythm Disruption

Anytime you go through two or more time zones in a short period, jet lag can come knocking at your door. Why? Well, zipping through many time zones puts your circadian rhythms (or your internal clock) out of sync with the time at your new location. 

how to cure jet lag insomnia

Whichever country you are visiting, it will take a few days for your circadian rhythms to sync up with where you are so everything from hunger to toilet habitats will be thrown off of your usual course — including sleep. 


Sunlight plays a big part in influencing your internal clock. This is because light has a hold over melatonin (which is a hormone that allows your cells to synchronise across your entire body) regulation.

How does this happen? Well, some cells that are located in the retina (back part of your eye) relay light signals to the hypothalamus in your brain. Therefore, when it is night time and there is hardly any light signals, the hypothalamus lets the pineal gland know that it needs to produce and release melatonin. On the other hand, when daylight strikes, the pineal gland does not produce much of this hormone whatsoever.  

Cabin Pressure and The Atmosphere

There has been some research conducted that shows cabin pressure and altitudes which are very high (which come hand-in-hand with air travel of course) can affect the symptoms of jet lag, even if you are going on a domestic flight. 

Humidity Levels

When you are on an aircraft, you may notice that the moisture content in the there is pretty low. Because of this fact, if you do not boost your fluid intake, you will become dehydrated which can cause some of the jet lag symptoms we talked about earlier.

The more you fly, your age, number of time zones you go through and whether you are gaining time or losing time will be factors which raise your chances of experiencing jet lag. 

How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Health

So, why is it important to get sleep? There is a myth that has developed among people which says that people can "get used" to having little sleep and experience no negative side effects — this is purely false! Research that has been done surrounding sleep has clearly shown that enough, good sleep is crucial to mental and physical health, as well as safety and quality of life. 

The Emotional and Cognitive Affects

Not getting enough sleep can lead to you having difficulties with learning, solving problems, paying attention, being creative and making decisions. 

In addition to this, sleep deprivation can cause you to have trouble controlling your emotions, coping with change and making positive behaviour choices. Scarily, it is very much linked with suicide, depression and participating in dangerous risks. 

The Physical Effects

While the emotional and cognitive effects are hard enough to deal with, if you are experiencing lack of sleep then you have physical repercussions to live with as well. 

If you have trouble sleeping for a long period, you are more at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke. Not to mention that the chances of becoming obese are higher as well!

The hormone known as ghrelin increases when you do not get enough sleep which means you will be inclined to eat more too.

Additionally, you are immune system will suffer and you will find that you have a hard time fighting off common infections. 

Daytime Functioning and Safety 

It probably does not come as a shock that you will be far less productive throughout the day if you are struggling to sleep. You will discover that you take longer to do simple tasks, make a lot more mistakes and your reaction time will be considerably slower.

effects of jet lag

How to Prevent Jet Lag

You might be pleased to know that there are things you can do to prevent the likelihood (or reduce the symptoms) of experiencing jet lag. You can do this by:

  • Arriving early
  • Getting a lot of rest before you travel
  • Adjust your bedtime schedule at home a few days before you set off 
  • Regulate light exposure
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Keep up with the schedule at your new location
  • Sleep on the plane if it is nighttime at your destination

However, you could implement all of these tips and still experience jet lag, so the next section is all about how to cure it. 

How to Cure Jet Lag Insomnia 

Usually, you will not need any treatment for this as it is temporary. But, if you fly regularly and are continuously lumbered with jet lag, then you could be prescribed medication or light therapy. 


Nonbenzodiazepines and Benzodiazepines are sleeping pills which can help you rest during your flight and the following nights after you arrive. 

Bear in mind that they won't be given to you unless you have tried other treatments which haven't helped. 

Light Therapy

If you can't spend a little time outside in the natural sun, then using a lamp that simulates the sun's rays for a certain amount of time should help. 

3 Ways to Manage Sleep Deprivation

There are ways you can manage sleep deprivation yourself but you do need to be committed. 

1. Relaxation Methods

You could try meditation techniques like breathing deeply and in different ways, guided imagery and mindfulness. 

Another useful idea is to try progressive muscle relaxation by tensing and then untensing various body parts. 

2. Controlling Stimulation

This means just control what you do before you go to bed — limit screen time, reduce caffeine intake and only spend time in bed when you are trying to sleep or feel tired. 

how lack of sleep affects your health

3. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

This therapy type will allow you to understand the thought patterns you might have behind certain things and why it happens. Once you do understand, you will be walked through the process of changing them to help you get a good night's sleep.