Headache from Jet Lag – Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Switching geographies by traveling across multiple time zones may interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm (body’s clock). The biological clock of a person’s body is timed according to the natural rhythm of a 24-hour day. Traveling across zones may cause an imbalance between the two, resulting in a sleep abnormality referred to as jet lag. This sleep disorder is usually characterized by several different symptoms, including headaches.

Symptoms of jet lag headache

Headache resulting from circadian dysrhythmia is characterized by the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood changes
  • Altitude sickness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of equilibrium
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Impaired thinking.

Causes of jet lag headache

Disruption of the circadian rhythm from the natural clock may induce mood swings and irritability. The human brain is programmed according to the local time zone a person inhabits. A sudden massive change in the time zone tends to cause a disruption in this programming. It is noteworthy that all the fundamental body functions including walking, talking, sleeping and eating, etc., controlled by different hormonal levels in the body undergo a massive shift. This may induce jet lag and a headache.

Headache after jet lag is usually significant, though it may vary in intensity depending upon the following conditions:

  • Travel distance
  • Time zones crossed
  • Amount of layovers
  • Direction of travel
  • Local daylight hours.

What may trigger a headache after Jet Lag?

  • Direction: A Jet Lag headache is almost undeniable for most people though it may vary in intensity and duration. It is observed that traveling east triggers headaches more than traveling west.
  • Caffeine and alcohol intake: Both caffeine and alcohol are known to interfere with the sleep cycle and make it difficult to bounce back from a headache after jet lag.
  • Dehydration: Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics and when spiced with dry air in the plane cabin would lead to dehydration that may trigger a headache.
  • Decreased oxygen availability: Shifting from an area of adequate oxygen availability to a hypoxic environment at high altitudes in the plane may lead to altitude sickness resulting in a headache.
  • Poor sleeping habits: Not well-planned sleep habits before the flight may trigger a jet lag headache.
  • Jet lag history: Individuals having a previous jet lag history may get their headaches triggered by short periods of traveling.
  • Individual variations: Jet lag though almost always significant may vary in its symptoms for all people. Not all people traveling across time zones suffer from the same intensity of Jet lag headache.

Jet lag and migraine

Migraine is a chronic headache condition that can be easily triggered. Any change in sleeping pattern, wakeful nights and alteration in the body’s natural circadian rhythm can trigger a migraine. The headache eventually subsides once the body has customized to the natural cycle of day and night.

Management of jet lag headache


Jet lag headache can easily be diagnosed in people travelling across multiple time zones that may alter their natural circadian rhythm. The condition is often characterized by headache, dizziness, lethargy, confusion, mood changes and irritability that may be accompanied by other symptoms and may vary in intensity. 


  • Over the counter pain killers are recommended
  • Melatonin is a hormone that is known to help the body fall asleep. Prescription medicines and dietary supplements that stimulate the production and boost levels of melatonin can be used.


  • Pre-adjusting your sleep schedule: Jet lag headache can be prevented by pre-adjusting your sleep wake cycle days before the flight according to the area’s time zone. This may help prevent jet lag headaches and associated symptoms.
  • Scheduling the first days of your trip: Daylight is important in overcoming the effects of an altering time zone and helps readjust the body’s circadian rhythm. Scheduling the first days of your trip to help yourself maximize your daylight absorbance may help recover from jet lag headache fast.
  • Minimize travel stress: Stress is a provoking factor for inducing a jet lag headache. Preventing traveling stress can help you prevent jet lag headaches.
  • Caffeine and Alcohol intake: As triggers of jet lag headaches, caffeine and alcohol intake must be avoided. Try to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Cautious nap: Avoid long naps during the flight. A minimal duration of naps, comprising 20 minutes is recommended.
  • Move yourself: Try not to remain stuck in your seat. To help prevent clot formation, move yourself with a mild walk to help prevent jet lag headache.
  • Health significance: Keep an eye on any of your underlying health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Prepare yourself for your flight in accordance with your doctor’s advice.

Home remedies

Jet lag headache is a common problem and is almost always significant. However, some important jet lag remedies might help:

  • Taking a hot bath before bedtime: A hot shower before bedtime is recommended to help your muscles relax and wipe away all the stress to help you prepare for your flight and ease your falling asleep.
  • Hydration: Proper hydration and avoiding any sort of diuretics are highly recommended. Try avoiding hangovers. 
  • Eating habits: After reaching your destination, try to eat a healthy yet light food and avoid strenuous exercise. Mild muscle stretches may work well.
  • Adjust your sleep: Adjust your sleep according to the new time zone you are in.
  • Melatonin habits: Allow your biological clock to adjust itself according to the melatonin production influenced by daylight. Daylight may help overcome jet lag headache and dizziness.

When to consult a doctor?

Headache from jet lag and other associated symptoms usually fade away on their own. However, if you are a frequent traveler and experience jet lag more often with recurrent episodes, you may need to consult a psychologist to help you adjust your sleep schedule.


How do I get rid of a headache from jet lag?

Jet lag headaches usually go away on their own. Try hydrating yourself, adjusting your daytime melatonin production and sleep cycle according to the new regional time zone.

How long does it take to recover from jet lag?

Recovery period from jet lag varies depending upon the number of time zones crossed. It usually take 1 day for each time zone crossed.

Can jet lag trigger migraines?

Disturbance in normal sleep cycle usually causes migraine in sufferers. Jet lag is a common trigger for migraine.

Does drinking water help with jet lag?

Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after the flight is recommended and helps overcome the effects of dry air cabin causing dehydration and headache with other associated symptoms.

Last medically reviewed on October 16, 2022.