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  • Updated 05.08.2023
  • Released 11.22.1993
  • Expires For CME 05.08.2026

Jet lag disorder



In today’s society, transmeridian air travel is a common mode of transportation. Individuals crossing several time zones can experience jet lag disorder, which is characterized by symptoms of difficulty falling asleep or excessive daytime sleepiness, general malaise, and somatic complaints. Jet lag disorder may be partially preventable or treatable by understanding the basics of circadian rhythm physiology and its intimate interactions with the sleep-wake cycle. The authors provide an update on the current understanding of jet lag disorder, including diagnostic criteria based on the ICSD-3, pathophysiology, and therapeutic approaches to minimize symptoms, as well as when it is appropriate to accelerate alignment of the endogenous clock with the new time zone.

Key points

• Jet lag disorder is caused by a temporary mismatch between the timing of the sleep and wake rhythm generated by the endogenous circadian clock with that of the new time zone’s imposed timing of sleep and wake pattern and other behaviors, as well as the change in the light-dark cycle.

• Symptoms include difficulties in initiating and maintaining sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, decrease in subjective alertness and performance, impairment of daytime functioning, and somatic complaints.

• Jet lag symptoms are more severe for most individuals when flying eastward.

• The best strategy for brief stays (2 to 3 days) in the new time zone is to keep the original sleep-wake schedule, if at all possible.

• For longer stays, timed melatonin with strategic exposure to light and avoidance of light at specific times are the best strategies to accelerate the alignment of endogenous circadian rhythms to the new time zone.

Historical note and terminology

Time-zone change syndrome (jet lag) did not exist prior to the invention of jet planes during World War II and became common when commercial transmeridian air travel by jet became commonplace in the 1960s. Hundreds of millions of travelers cross time zones by jet each year and, for the majority of travelers, jet lag is a minor and temporary nuisance. For a minority that travel frequently by jet, time-zone change syndrome is a major health problem. The current formal name used in the 3rd edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders is jet lag disorder. Alternate names include time zone change syndrome, jet lag syndrome, and jet lag type (02).

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