How Long Does Jet Lag Last? Our Experience with Thousands of Fliers

Last week, we looked at what causes jet lag and where the term comes from. But how long does jet lag last and is there any truth to the legend that symptoms last longer when flying in one direction versus the other?

Here’s what our experience with thousands of fliers tells us and what you need to know about how long jet lag lasts.

How long does it take to recover from jet lag?

Fatigue, irritability, and stomach problems—they’re all common symptoms when you soar across time zones, but how long do they last? Jet lag can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, according to the Sleep Foundation. These week-long bouts of jet lag are uncommon, however, with most travelers feeling better after only a few days.

Symptoms typically last between one and two days per time zone crossed, though this duration varies from person to person and flight to flight.

Can jet lag last two weeks?

Yes, but it depends on your route. Jet lag lasting two weeks would be possible for travelers flying from Los Angeles to India, for example, but is unlikely if you’re flying from Los Angeles to New York City.

Does jet lag get worse with age?

You’ve been traveling for years, but recently, you’ve found it harder to recover from jet lag. Is your age making jet lag worse? There are conflicting studies about the role age plays in jet lag.

One study, following six young men and eight middle-aged men, compared alertness and the subjects’ ability to sleep after adjusting their daily routines by six hours to mimic jet lag. In this study, the older group had more severe symptoms, but both groups adjusted to their new time zones quickly.

However, another study found that older people took longer than younger people to recover from the fatigue and sleepless nights caused by jet lag.

While symptoms do appear to get worse with age, there is no concrete study proving the impact age has when answering the question of how long does jet lag last. 

In which direction is jet lag worse?

Have you noticed that you feel more tired, and for longer, when you fly from New York City to Paris than you do flying the same route the other way around?

In an interview with Travel + Leisure, American physicist and University of Maryland professor Michelle Girvan says that, if you do, science is on your side. 

When you fly west, Girvan says, your internal clock is delayed, meaning you sleep later in the day. When you fly east, your internal clock advances and you sleep earlier. However, if you’re flying east and crossing multiple time zones, your internal clock actually delays. This disruption means it takes longer for your circadian rhythm to adjust.

The best thing to do, Girvan says, is to acclimate to your new time zone before you take to the skies by using artificial light.

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