Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Higher levels of melatonin improves sleep quality. Low levels could result in sleeplessness.
While the use of melatonin as a sleep supplement is well known- its use as an aid to overcome jet lag is not common knowledge
The use of melatonin supplements to prevent or manage jet lag is gaining popularity.
What are the scientific reasons behind melatonin’s effectiveness as a jet-lag supplement? Let’s explore that in detail below.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland. It is secreted in the absence of light.
In the presence of light, melatonin production is reduced.
Its conventional wisdom to turn the lights off to help us fall asleep. This is because, the body produces melatonin (the sleep hormone) in the absence of light.
Conversely, when the sun is up in the morning, melatonin levels go down. This high-low cycle between sun-light and melatonin is scientifically known as “circadian rhythm”-our natural sleep-wake cycle.
This has a big impact on many aspects of our health and well-being.
Healthcare professionals very commonly advise us to get plenty of good quality sleep, precisely because of the big impact circadian rhythm has on our body and mind.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is a temporary disruption in the circadian rhythm which frequently occurs in individuals who move between time zones. For example, taking an overseas flight.
Common symptoms of jet lag include:
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Finding it difficult to sleep at night
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Mood swings
- Short temper
Since it is a temporary condition, the sleep cycle is restored once the body is accustomed to the new time zone.
So, is there a connection between jet lag and melatonin production?
Here is what the research says.
Melatonin supplements could help reduce the effects of jet lag
The effects of melatonin to treat jet lag has been extensively researched, as much as for other sleep disorders like insomnia.
A 2002 review showed that 10 studies supported the association of melatonin with jet lag. Melatonin was shown to reduce the effects of jet lag in individuals who crossed over five time zones, and took melatonin close to the local bedtime of the destination.
A more recent 2014 study on 900 participants showed that melatonin minimized the effects of jet-lag.
How to use melatonin for jet lag?
The recommended dosage of melatonin for jet lag varies between individuals. Consult your doctor before starting them.
Studies are divided on whether the effects of melatonin is better when taken before or after arriving at the destination.
People generally take melatonin for jet lag after arriving at the destination, although some studies have inferred that taking melatonin supplements a day prior to the arrival date works well.
If you are travelling to a time zone that is ahead of your normal time it is recommended to take melatonin before the local bedtime.
The effective dosage for this is 0.5 mg to 5 mg and, sometimes even higher.
Alternative Ways to Prevent Jet Lag
Apart from taking melatonin, here are some other ways that can help you deal with jet lag.
- Staying hydrated. dehydration can aggravate jet lag.
- Avoiding alcohol and coffee consumption. Both these drinks increase frequency of urination and disturb sleep.
- Sticking to the new time schedule. Going to bed as per the local time, irrespective of how sleepy or tired you are.
- Set an alarm for waking up as per your next day’s schedule.
- Get some natural light during the day as it helps to reset your sleep-wake cycle. Morning light is helpful if one travels eastwards, and evening light is useful to those who travel westwards.
Is melatonin safe to use?
Melatonin is considered safe for short-term use. First-time users are recommended to consult a specialist before starting on it.
Here are a few cases where melatonin is not advised:
- Breast feeding women
- In case of autoimmune conditions
- People with seizures
- Individuals with depression
Individuals who are on other medications must also consult with their doctor before taking melatonin supplements, as its known that melatonin interacts with other drugs:
- Blood pressure-related medication
- Medications for diabetes
Also do not take melatonin with alcohol. Alcohol weakens the effects of melatonin