Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem a person may experience when traveling across multiple time zones. It can affect people in many ways, including gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation.

Jet lag, also known as circadian desynchrony, is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. This means it disrupts a person’s body clock and sleep due to traveling across time zones. It can result in various symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues.

Constipation occurs when a person is unable to have a bowel movement according to their usual schedule. It is not uncommon to experience constipation when traveling, and people often refer to it as travel or vacation constipation.

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Jet lag can cause a variety of symptoms, such as gastrointestinal disturbances. This can include constipation.

Jet lag occurs due to abrupt changes in local time cues, such as sunrise and sunset, after flying across time zones. The body’s internal clock, known as circadian rhythm, is unable to adapt quickly to this swift change. This can affect natural processes in the body, such as digestion.

This is likely due to the relationship between circadian rhythm and gut motility. For example, the bowels are more active around the time of waking and remain more active during the day than during the night. As such, disruption to the circadian rhythm can influence bowel function.

Sleep deficiency is another possible symptom of jet lag. This is where a person does not get enough sleep or sleeps at inappropriate times. A 2022 study notes that sleep deficiency is associated with more severe symptoms of constipation.

Learn more about constipation.

Can jet lag also cause diarrhea?

In addition to constipation, jet lag can also cause other gastrointestinal symptoms. This can include indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea. A person may also experience nausea and changes in appetite.

Alongside jet lag’s effect on bowel movements, other aspects of traveling can also influence the bowels.

For example, diarrhea may occur due to food-borne infections, changes in environment, or stress. Changes to a person’s usual schedule during travel can lead to constipation, such as sitting for long periods and eating a different diet. Indigestion may also occur if someone tries unfamiliar local cuisines or eats more than usual.

Learn more about travel constipation and traveler’s diarrhea.

Different factors can influence jet lag and the severity of its symptoms. For example, a person is more likely to experience more severe jet lag symptoms as they cross more time zones. This is due to a larger disruption to a person’s circadian rhythm.

Westward travel generally causes less disruption than eastward travel. This is because the natural circadian cycle is easier to lengthen rather than shorten.

Additionally, crossing multiple time zones can affect the timings of regular medications. Therefore, a person may want to consider the destination and traveling time when evaluating medication timings. If unsure, they can consult a healthcare professional for advice.

As well as gastrointestinal symptoms, other possible symptoms of jet lag can include:

  • sleep disturbances, such as difficulty sleeping and waking up
  • fatigue
  • concentration and memory problems
  • difficulty staying awake during the day
  • reduced sleep quality
  • mild anxiety

Symptoms of jet lag will generally improve after a few days as a person adjusts to the new time zone. For west-to-east trips, it may take roughly 1 day to recover for each time zone a person crosses. For east-to-west trips, it can take 1 day for each one-and-a-half time zones a person crosses.

Before traveling, a person can also try adjusting their sleep patterns. If traveling west, they can go to bed 1–2 hours later than usual. Conversely, they can go to bed 1–2 hours earlier if traveling east.

Some people may consider a stopover with longer journeys to help them adjust to new time zones. Additionally, it may be advisable to plan 1–2 days of less intense activities to help compensate for jet lag.

Tips to reduce jet lag symptoms may include:

  • consuming smaller meals before and during the flight
  • avoiding alcohol
  • considering caffeine and exercise, such as walking up the aisle, to help with alertness
  • drinking sufficient amounts of water
  • receiving light exposure to help advance or delay circadian rhythms
  • taking melatonin or melatonin-receptor analogs, which can advance or delay circadian rhythms
  • taking certain prescription sleep medications may help reduce sleep loss
  • using mobile apps that provide advice on managing jet lag symptoms

If a person is experiencing constipation, it is generally advisable to eat fiber-rich foods and drink plenty of fluids. This is because dietary fiber helps increase the weight and size of stool and softens it. Water further helps soften stools and makes them easier to pass.

Learn more about foods and natural remedies to help relieve constipation.

Jet lag is the term for the symptoms a person may experience when traveling across time zones. Quickly traveling across time zones can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm and affect several bodily processes, such as digestion. This can influence bowel function and cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation.

A person can try various strategies to reduce the symptoms of jet lag, such as constipation. Examples include consuming smaller meals, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking melatonin.