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?
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:
- The more frequently you fly, the more likely you are to experience jet lag.
- Traveling east tends to generate more severe jet lag symptoms than traveling west.
- The elderly are more likely to suffer from jet lag than younger adults.
- Consuming certain beverages (e.g. caffeine and alcohol) and foods can exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
- The stale, dry air and cabin pressure found in airplanes can make jet lag symptoms worse.
- Your pre-flight condition has a big impact on your susceptibility to jet lag. Being sleep deprived, stressed, hungover, or otherwise unwell before a long flight will increase your odds of being jet lagged. Also, if your body is accustomed to a strict sleep-wake schedule, you’re more likely to be affected by being in a new time zone.
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.