How Long Do You Have to Travel to Get Jet Lag?

If you’ve ever traveled across the country or internationally, then you’re probably no stranger to jet lag. No matter how many weird tricks we might try, the condition plagues travelers the world over.

While most of us are familiar with the symptoms of jet lag, we’re often less clear on the condition’s technicalities. To understand more about jet lag’s causes, it’s helpful to start with this question: How long do you have to travel to get jet lag in the first place?

What are the causes of (and cures for) jet lag?

The Symptoms and Causes of Jet Lag

Before we address how long you have to travel to get jet lag, let’s define what jet lag is, including its symptoms and causes.

Jet lag occurs when your body encounters a change in time zones and isn’t able to immediately adjust its normal sleep-wake rhythms to the local time. Its symptoms include headaches, irritability, poor mood, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, insomnia or other sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of malaise.

There are a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of being affected by jet lag (which we’ll cover below.) In general, the most common causes of jet lag include the disruption of circadian rhythms, a lack of exposure to sunlight at times that facilitate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and the stresses of plane travel.

How Long You Have to Travel to Get Jet Lag

Now that we’ve established what jet lag is all about, let’s get back to the original question: How long do you have to travel to get jet lag?

The answer varies from person to person. But the general rule of thumb is that you’ll experience jet lag within one or two days of traveling whenever you cross two or more time zones. So, for example, traveling from Los Angeles to the Midwest would probably generate some jet lag, as would traveling from New York City to San Francisco. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to experience symptoms—and the more severe those symptoms are likely to be.

Within these basic parameters, there are a number of factors that can influence the experience of jet lag:

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to prevent jet lag entirely if you’re traveling across two or more time zones. In general, expect your body to take a day to bounce back for every time zone crossed. The good news is you can facilitate your body’s recovery from jet lag by implementing these strategies for reducing post-travel fatigue.

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