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Jet lag

Cathy A Goldstein, MD
Section Editor
Ruth Benca, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Air travel allows individuals to traverse time zones faster than the internal clock, or circadian rhythm, can adjust. This results in desynchrony between the external light-dark cycle and the endogenous circadian rhythm. Jet lag ensues, which manifests as impaired alertness during the desired wake time and/or difficulty sleeping during the allotted time for sleep at the destination.

This topic reviews the underlying pathophysiology, clinical features, evaluation, and treatment of jet lag. Other circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders are reviewed separately. (See "Overview of circadian sleep-wake rhythm disorders".)


The prevalence of jet lag is unknown [1]. The impact of age and gender on the likelihood of developing jet lag has not been clearly defined [2], although older adults may be less likely to experience symptoms of jet lag [3,4].


Circadian rhythms are the near 24-hour processes that allow an organism to react in an appropriate manner to environmental light-dark changes caused by the earth's rotation every 24 hours. The most obvious circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which typically aligns to the light-dark cycle.

The circadian rhythm of sleep and wake is paralleled by the secretion of melatonin and oscillation of core body temperature (CBT):

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 13, 2016.
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