The effects of long-distance travel and daylight saving time can really throw your body’s internal clock out of whack—leaving you feeling groggy, tired, and just plain lousy. Luckily, with the right knowledge and tools, it’s possible to plan ahead and avoid any unwanted effects on your precious slumber. Below, we’re breaking down how jet lag and daylight saving time can affect sleep and common signs to look for. Keep reading to learn how you can prepare ahead of time and minimize the impact on your Zzzs.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is the body’s way of signaling that your 24-hour internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) is misaligned. It can occur after traveling across at least one time zone but usually becomes noticeable after crossing three or more. The symptoms of jet lag can affect anyone—regardless of age, gender, or physical fitness—and tend to get progressively worse the farther you travel from your local time zone. In other words, you can travel from New York to Los Angeles in six hours, but your body may require a bit longer to catch up. After a flight, the time wherein your sleep-wake cycle is still aligned with the local time back home is referred to as “jet lag.”
What Are the Most Common Signs of Jet Lag?
Fortunately, the effects of jet lag typically only last for the first couple of days after you arrive in a new time zone. But although jet lag isn’t considered serious, its symptoms can be quite bothersome and really put a damper on your travel plans. Different from “travel fatigue,” which is categorized by normal post-travel tiredness, jet lag’s symptoms are specifically tied to a circadian rhythm disruption. Common signs can include:
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Loss of appetite
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Falling asleep at odd hours
Jet lag may also impact your overall mood and daytime performance, causing you to feel more irritable, anxious, and unable to concentrate. These symptoms will usually subside on their own once your body’s internal clock aligns with the new time zone.
What Is Daylight Saving Time?
Since 1966, daylight saving time (also known as DST) has been observed throughout most of the United States.1 About a quarter of the entire world’s population is affected by daylight saving time, with clocks being adjusted either one hour forward or backward twice per year.2 Daylight saving time can have similar effects on your sleep quality and daytime functioning as jet lag. However, with daylight saving time, your “social clock” is changed (rather than your “environmental clock”)—meaning that a man-made time change is created, but the sunrise and sunset times remain the same. This can create what’s known as “social jet lag,” where a person’s sleep-wake cycle is out of tune with their social and work schedule.
How Does Daylight Saving Time Affect Sleep?
Following daylight saving time, people tend to go to bed later and fall asleep later, resulting in lost Zzzs and disrupted sleep schedules. According to one study, the average person sleeps for 40 minutes less on the Monday following the “spring forward” time change.3 This can be especially worrisome for anyone who already experiences trouble falling or staying asleep. Fortunately, the effects of daylight saving time on sleep tend to resolve on their own after a few weeks in most cases.
When it comes to daylight saving time and its effects on sleep, it’s important to note that there have been some opposing views among the scientific and medical communities in recent years. At least 20 scientific, medical, and civic organizations have publicly supported the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and their stance on eliminating daylight saving time altogether—agreeing that permanent standard time would be better for public health and safety.4 Regardless of this debate, the good news is that there are ways that you can help prepare your body for daylight saving time. Keep reading to find out more.
How To Combat the Effects of Jet Lag and Daylight Saving Time on Your Sleep
Schedule a buffer for yourself
First up, it’s important to remember that the effects of jet lag or daylight saving time on your sleep schedule are natural and there’s no “magic cure” for jet lag. Be gentle and patient with yourself in the days immediately before and after a time shift. Whenever possible, create a buffer for yourself to allow for extra rest when you need it. If you’re traveling across multiple time zones for an important event, it may be helpful to arrive a couple days earlier. This will give your body an advanced opportunity to acclimate to the time zone in your destination before the special event.
Use light exposure strategically
The key to minimizing sleep disturbances from jet lag and daylight saving time is realigning your body’s circadian rhythm as quickly as possible. And since sunlight has the most powerful impact on your circadian rhythm, you may be able to overcome that sluggish feeling more quickly by strategically timing your light exposure. For example, before daylight saving time in the spring, you can head outdoors for some sunlight in the morning and dim the lights earlier on Sunday evening. Exercising outdoors in the morning sunlight is a great way to support your overall wellness, while also helping to shift your sleep-wake cycle earlier after daylight saving time. Alternately, for fall daylight saving time, you can also utilize this trick by decreasing your light exposure until your ideal wake-up time.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Focus on optimizing your sleep hygiene (positive sleep habits) in the days leading up to a time shift in order to help reduce or prevent any side effects. You’ll want to be as well-rested as possible before traveling or adjusting your clocks for daylight saving time. To assist with this, it’s best to minimize your intake of beverages that can be dehydrating (such as alcohol and caffeinated drinks), as well as heavy meals that may trigger or worsen indigestion. It’s also essential to get the seven or eight recommended hours of sleep the night before, avoid electronics before bed, maintain a cozy sleep environment, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated on the plane.
Adjust your sleep schedule gradually
Before daylight saving time starts or you arrive in a new time zone, it may be helpful to make gradual changes to your sleep schedule. This can help your body slowly adjust ahead of the time shift and help lessen bothersome symptoms. To try this method, progressively set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier each day until you reach the desired sleeping and waking schedule. The goal is to proactively align your sleep schedule (and possibly also your meal times) ahead of time to lessen the “surprise” on your body’s circadian rhythm.
Try melatonin sleep-aids
Your body naturally creates the hormone melatonin to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, among many other important functions. Taking a melatonin supplement may help relieve symptoms of jet lag and help realign your biological clock. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), melatonin is generally considered the most well-known supplement for treating jet lag.5 For guidance on how to use melatonin to beat jet lag, seek the advice of your physician or a sleep specialist.
Be careful with naps
Although the effects of jet lag or daylight saving time can make it tempting to doze off at odd hours, it might be best to forego naps and head to bed only once it’s dark outside. If you’re feeling extra lousy and do choose to nap, try to keep it to less than 20-30 minutes in length and at least eight hours before you plan to go to sleep.
And always remember: Jet lag and daylight saving time can affect each individual differently. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with a qualified health professional, such as your doctor or sleep specialist, for personalized advice. They can help advise you on the best ways to manage symptoms, as well as how to choose the best sleep-aid for jet lag and daylight saving time.
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† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Unisom is only intended to help with occasional sleeplessness. If you are suffering from ongoing sleep concerns, seek the help of a medical professional.
1. Pacheco, Danielle. “Daylight Saving Time.” Sleep Foundation, 22 Apr. 2022.
2. Kantermann, Thomas et al. “The human circadian clock's seasonal adjustment is disrupted by daylight saving time.” Current biology : CB vol. 17,22 (2007): 1996-2000. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.10.025
3. Barnes, C. M., & Wagner, D. T. (2009). “Changing to daylight saving time cuts into sleep and increases workplace injuries.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(5), 1305–1317. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015320
5. “Jet Lag.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, June 24). CDC Yellow Book 2020: Health Information for International Travel. Oxford University Press, 2022.
†This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.