Can You Get Jet Lag From Driving? – and How to Avoid It

man driving car during golden hour can you get jet lag from driving

Can You Get Jet Lag From Driving?

We’ve all been there. You get in the car for a long drive, and after a few hours, you start to feel tired. Your eyes feel heavy, your head hurts, and you can’t wait to stop for the night.

Is it jet lag? or is it just reserved for air travel?

It turns out that there is such a thing as “driving fatigue” or “highway hypnosis,” and it can be just as dangerous as jet lag.

So what exactly is driving fatigue? And how can you avoid it on your next road trip?

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder that occurs when your 24-hour internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm, does not match the local day-night cycle. It is a temporary sleep disorder caused by travel across multiple time zones.

Jet lag occurs when your body’s internal clock is synced to your original time zone and has not had enough time to adjust to the new time zone – for example pilots have jet lag constantly.

This disturbance to your internal sleep pattern can have an effect on your mental health and other bodily functions. The longer the flight, the higher your risk of jet lag.

Jet lag is commonly characterized by symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, and gastrointestinal changes. There is no medication to prevent or cure jet lag, but managing sleep and light exposure and adjusting the routine for eating and exercising can help a person adapt more quickly.

Can you get jet lag from driving?

No, you cannot get jet lag from driving. But you can get “road lag”. While jet lag is commonly associated with air travel, it is possible to experience similar symptoms after driving long distances across different time zones. This is often referred to as “car lag” or “road lag”.

  • Jet lag is caused by the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms, which are our natural biological rhythms that regulate sleep, wakefulness, and other bodily functions. When we travel across multiple time zones, our internal body clock becomes out of sync with the external environment, leading to symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and irritability. Even animals can get jet lag when passing through many time zones.
  • Road lag is not so severe but can be similar. When we drive long distances across time zones, our internal clock can also become disrupted, leading to similar symptoms. The severity of these symptoms may depend on factors such as the number of time zones crossed, the direction of travel, and individual factors such as age and health. Therefore, it is possible to experience a type of “jet lag” from driving, although it may not be as common or as severe as the type of jet lag experienced after air travel.
jet lag from driving

What causes jet lag when driving long distances?

Jet lag when driving long distances is caused by the disruption of your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that is attuned to the day-night cycle in your departure location. This can happen when traveling by car if you are driving between time zones.

Other factors that can contribute to jet lag when driving are long periods of sitting in a car, lack of oxygen and low humidity which can all cause dehydration.

To minimize the risk, it is advised to follow the guidelines of strategically avoiding travel fatigue by getting plenty of rest and avoiding caffeine and alcohol during your journey.

Can jet lag be avoided when driving?

  • Yes, jet lag can be avoided when driving by following certain good practices. These include
  • planning ahead,
  • focusing on the arrival time and onward journey planning,
  • using cost-effective, safe and appropriate ground transport,
  • familiarizing oneself with local driving conditions and laws,
  • and avoiding driving in unfamiliar environments.

Travel Fatigue Vs. Jet Lag

Travel fatigue and jet lag are both tiredness as a result of traveling, but they are not the same.

Travel fatigue can be from one long trip or several trips over a number of days or months, and its symptoms are the same as jet lag: daytime tiredness, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping or staying asleep, gastrointestinal disturbances, and decreased alertness. Jet lag, on the other hand, is the result of traveling through 3 or more time zones and requires you to adjust your waking and sleeping times.

It can also cause disruption to a person’s body clock and affect sleep, eating patterns, performance, concentration, and motivation. Jet lag can be more severe when one travels farther, as the body has to make a bigger adjustment. While travel fatigue does not involve circadian rhythm disruption, jet lag does, making it more difficult to adjust to the new time zone.

How to avoid jet lag when driving long distances?

1. Adjust your sleep schedule before the trip

  1. Before traveling, adjust your sleep schedule, rest well.
  2. Get quality rest for at least a few nights before your trip.
  3. Take regular breaks to walk and stretch to avoid stiffness and blood clots during driving.

2. Get sunlight

During travelling, get as much natural sunlight as possible. Doing so will help keep your body from producing melatonin, a natural sleep hormone.

If you arrive at your destination when it is dark outside, try to utilize artificial light from overhead lights and lamps, but avoid the flashing lights of your cellphone or laptop.

woman in gray hoodie sitting inside car during daytime with jet lag

If your trip is short (2 to 3 days), try to eat and sleep at the times you would at home. This will help to set your internal clock. It is better is if you are a passenger so that you can sleep in the moving car during travel.

3. Plan your route in advance

Planning your route in advance can be an effective way to avoid jet lag when driving long distances. Planning ahead allows you to anticipate possible obstacles and plan accordingly, such as factoring in extra time for rest stops or avoiding heavily congested areas.

By planning a route that allows for regular stops and rest, your body will have time to adjust to the new time zone as you travel. For example, if you plan to drive for 6 hours and stop for 2, your body will have time to adjust and reduce the effects of jet lag.

Finally, research shows that people who plan their trips at least a month in advance report less travel stress than those who leave without a plan. By taking the time to plan your route before you leave, you can ensure that your trip is stress-free and that you arrive feeling refreshed and energized.

4. Take a break every two hours

When driving long distances, it is important to take breaks in order to reduce the risk of fatigue, staying alert, and avoiding accidents. In order to minimize fatigue, the 2-2-2 rule is recommended. This involves:

  1. Driving for two hours at a time, without distractions;
  2. Taking a break for two hours afterwards;
  3. Sleeping for two hours prior to resuming the journey.

It is also advisable to take a break from driving every two to three hours, even if you haven’t been driving for the full two hours, in order to stretch your legs, use the bathroom and grab a bite to eat. If possible, try to take the breaks in areas with lots of natural light, such as national parks, to keep your body clock in sync.

Finally, make sure to plan your journey in advance and allow yourself plenty of time to rest. This will help you stay stress-free and well-rested so that you can enjoy your journey.


How does jet lag affect the body?

Jet lag affects the body in several ways. It disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, causing fatigue, sleep disruption, and gastrointestinal changes. It can cause difficulty falling asleep and drowsiness during the day, as well as headaches, lack of focus or concentration, extreme tiredness, general feeling of being “off”, an upset stomach, and mood changes.

How can I adjust my circadian rhythm to avoid jet lag?

  • Avoid sleep deprivation. Get a good night’s sleep before you travel and try to stay well-rested during your trip.
  • Manage light exposure. Strategic light exposure can help you adjust your internal clock to avoid or reduce jet lag. Sunlight has the strongest effect on circadian rhythm, but different types of artificial light can also influence it.
  • Take melatonin. Melatonin can help you realign your circadian rhythm and help you fall asleep even if you are stressed in your new time zone.

What are some signs of driver fatigue?

Signs of driver fatigue include:

  1. yawning
  2. difficulty focusing
  3. rubbing eyes
  4. drifting out of the lane
  5. forgetting the route
  6. having difficulty staying awake
  7. loss of concentration
  8. increased reaction time
  9. feeling drowsy even after a good night’s rest
  10. inability to recall recent events or conversations
  11. restlessness
  12. irritability
  13. daydreaming
  14. head nodding or drooping

Can a one hour time difference cause jet lag?

No, a one hour time difference usually will not cause jet lag. Studies have shown that it typically takes a difference of more than an hour in time zones for a person to experience jet lag.

Research suggests that around 1 in 3 people may not even experience jet lag when traveling, so the effects of a one hour time difference may not be felt at all.

Does jet lag make you emotional?

Jet lag can have an impact on your mental health, which may cause changes in your mood, such as irritability. This is due to the disruption of your internal circadian clock, which can cause lack of sleep.

Jet lag can cause emotional difficulties, where some people may feel irritable or experience exacerbation of mental health problems, such as mood disorders. Therefore, it is possible that jet lag can make you emotional.

How do you know when it’s time to pull over and rest?

Knowing when it is time to pull over and rest is a very important decision to make when traveling. We can all feel a bit of fatigue after a long drive, but driving drowsy is dangerous and can lead to accidents. If you find yourself feeling drowsy and unable to concentrate on the road, it is time to pull over and rest.

For example, if you have been driving for several hours and find that you are having trouble keeping your eyes open, your mind wandering and you are starting to drift off the road – this is a sign it’s time to pull over and rest.

A good rule of thumb is to find a rest stop every two hours and take a 15-20 minute power nap. If you are on a long car ride, you should stop and take a break every two hours to refresh and rest your body.


By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.