Jet Lag Is a Drag: Why It Happens and How to Avoid It

With spring and summer travel seasons ahead, Baylor sleep expert offers insight on jet lag and the three steps travelers can take to prevent it 

February 26, 2024
Man asleep on globe pillow at airport

(Photo Credit: Getty Images/Brasil2)

Contact: Shelby Cefaratti-Bertin, Baylor University Media & Public Relations, 254-327-8012
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WACO, Texas (Feb. 26, 2024) – Anyone who has traveled has probably experienced jet lag – that exhausted feeling that comes after long travel and trips. But why do we feel jet lagged and how can we avoid it? With the spring and summer travel seasons ahead, travelers can prevent some of the effects of jet lag through planning and preparation, says Baylor University sleep expert Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor.

Jet lag is the body's internal response to being out of sync with the external environment. Even a relatively small difference of just an hour or two can throw off our biological rhythms as our bodies thrive on routine and expectations of time, Scullin said. However, when we are in a different time zone, the clock may say one time while our bodies feel like it is a different time – this is what causes the symptoms of jet lag, he said. 

Three steps you should take to ease jet lag

Scullin recommends three steps to help ease the effects of jet lag: phase advance (or delay), a buffer day and healthy sleep habits.

1. Phase advance

Adjusting your sleep schedule and nighttime routine ahead of travel can prepare your circadian rhythms for the new time zone – also known as phase advance (moving to earlier in the day) or phase delay (shifting to later in the day). Depending on the time difference between home and destination, phase advance or delay can help your body adjust to the difference quicker. This is especially helpful when traveling across multiple time zones, such as overseas travel. 

“Four to five days before an international trip, start going to bed and waking up half an hour earlier each night, increasing another half hour incrementally,” Scullin said. “But it wouldn’t be about just changing bedtimes – you should change all your mealtimes, timing of exercise, timing of early morning light exposure, reduction of evening light exposure and other routines as well. This helps your body’s internal clock adjust to the new environment before your trip.”

Scullin suggests taking a low dose of melatonin two to three hours before the preferred bedtime, which can help the phase advance.

Phase delay is the same process but in reverse, which can be advantageous when flying west across multiple time zones. You would stay up later and use more bright light exposure in the evening to delay bedtime and mealtimes. 

2. Healthy sleep habits

Having healthy sleep habits also can help prepare your body for a new time zone and a more enjoyable trip. Most people try to treat jet lag with quick fixes, like taking naps, which can make the effects more pronounced.

“If you take a long nap in the late afternoon, you might not be able to fall asleep at the time that you need to be able to fall asleep which can disrupt your sleep schedule more,” Scullin said.

Another mistake travelers can make is consuming more caffeine than normal or consuming it in the evening as a way to stay awake. It may help for a couple of hours, but Scullin said it will ultimately “delay your ability to acclimate to the new time zone.”

In addition to avoiding long naps and additional caffeine, heavy meals and drinks can affect our ability to adjust to a different time zone. Scullin suggests waiting until you arrive at your destination to enjoy rich foods and beverages, in moderation. 

“When we eat heavy meals, sugary treats and imbibe alcoholic beverages during travel—and then are immobile for several hours on a plane — the symptoms of jet lag are more likely to emerge,” said Scullin. 

3. Buffer day or “vacation from your vacation” 

Scheduling a buffer day at the end of a trip to rest and reacclimate to your normal time zone can help you adjust back to your normal time zone quicker and easier.

“Having one day as almost a ‘vacation from your vacation’ can provide a buffer period between your vacation and going back to your regular daily schedule,” Scullin said.

Getting in sync

It is important to remember that our bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to do when we feel jet lag. When we are out of sync with our natural rhythm of time, we are going to feel tired and off, Scullin said. 

“Our body's ability to maintain the time in a precise manner is really impressive,” he said. “We should actually be expressing gratitude toward our internal clocks every single day.”

Jet lag does not need to drag you down or interfere with your travel experience. By using these three steps, you can avoid some of the symptoms of jet lag, have a more enjoyable trip and adjust back to a regular routine quicker and easier. 


Michael K. Scullin’s research investigates how sleep physiology impacts memory, cognition and health. He also is interested in how we use memory to fulfill our daily intentions (a special kind of memory called “prospective” memory), including whether reminder apps and other technological solutions can reduce prospective memory difficulties in older age and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.


Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory investigates how cognitive and behavioral processes change across time through two lines of inquiry that often intersect: 1. What are the sleep and circadian-based underpinnings of cognition, health, and human flourishing? 2. Why does cognition change with aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and how can smart technology be leveraged to support prospective memory, longevity and quality of life?


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