Melatonin For Jet Lag: Does it Work?

Understanding Your Hormones Series

Jet lag is a common condition that affects travelers who cross multiple time zones, disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, difficulty sleeping at night, problems with concentration, and disrupted mood. Many people have turned to melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, as a potential solution for alleviating jet lag symptoms. But does melatonin really work for jet lag?

The studies suggest that yes melatonin does work for jet lag. 

So, let's get into the research behind melatonin and jet lag, discuss how to use melatonin effectively, and explore other strategies for preventing and managing jet lag.

Understanding the Relationship Between Melatonin and Jet Lag

Melatonin is a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating our sleeping and waking cycle, also known as our circadian rhythms. It is naturally secreted by the pineal gland in the absence of light, such as during nighttime hours. When we are exposed to light, melatonin production is suppressed, signaling our bodies to be awake and alert.

Jet lag occurs when we rapidly move through multiple time zones, disrupting our circadian rhythms. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including daytime sleepiness, difficulty sleeping at night, problems with concentration, and mood disturbances. The idea behind using melatonin for jet lag relief is that by taking this hormone, we can help reset our internal clock and adjust to the new time zone more quickly.

What Does the Research Say?

Numerous studies have investigated the effectiveness of melatonin for treating jet lag, and the results have been largely positive. In a review of 10 studies conducted in 2002, researchers found that melatonin decreased jet lag in individuals crossing five or more time zones in 9 out of 10 studies. The key to its effectiveness was taking melatonin close to the local bedtime at the destination.

More recent research from 2014 reviewed eight randomized clinical trials involving over 900 participants. The analysis found that six of the eight trials favored melatonin over the control group in counteracting the effects of jet lag. These findings suggest that melatonin can be an effective tool for reducing jet lag symptoms.

How to Use Melatonin for Jet Lag Relief

If you decide to try melatonin for jet lag relief, it is essential to follow proper guidelines to ensure its effectiveness. The dosage and timing of melatonin can vary, so it is crucial to consult with your doctor for their recommendations before using it.

Generally, it is recommended to take melatonin after you arrive at your destination. However, some research suggests taking it on the day of eastward travel at your ideal bedtime in the destination time zone, especially when crossing five or more time zones.

The effective dosage of melatonin can range from 0.5 milligrams to five milligrams or higher. Start with a lower dose and adjust as needed based on your individual response. It is important to note that higher doses may result in better sleep quality. Although it should be noted that 0.5mg is likely to be too low for most adults who will want to start between 2-3mg.

To maximize the benefits of melatonin, take it between 30 minutes to two hours before you plan to sleep. Since light naturally suppresses melatonin production, dim or darken the lights in your room and avoid using electronic devices that emit bright light, such as smartphones or laptops.

Other Strategies for Preventing and Managing Jet Lag

While melatonin can be effective for jet lag relief, there are also other strategies you can implement to prevent and manage jet lag symptoms. Here are some additional tips to consider:

Before You Depart

  • If possible, arrive at your destination a day or two earlier to allow your body to adjust to the new time zone.
  • Gradually adapt to the new schedule by adjusting your bedtime an hour earlier or later each evening, depending on the direction of travel.
  • Ensure you are well-rested before your trip, as starting off sleep-deprived can exacerbate jet lag.

On Your Flight

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can worsen jet lag symptoms.
  • If it aligns with your usual sleep schedule, try to sleep during the flight. Use eye masks and earplugs to create a conducive sleep environment.
  • Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as they can disrupt your sleep and exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
  • Consider asking your doctor about prescription sleeping pills to help with sleep duration and quality during the flight. However, note that these medications do not address circadian rhythm disturbances caused by travel.

After You Arrive

  • Adjust your schedule to the local time zone as soon as possible. Go to bed and wake up at times that align with the destination's time.
  • Get exposure to natural light during the day, particularly in the morning for eastward travel and in the evening for westward travel. This exposure helps reset your internal clock.
  • Engage in physical activity, such as walking or jogging, to further assist in adapting to the new time zone.

The Takeaway: Melatonin for Jet Lag

Melatonin can be an effective tool for alleviating jet lag symptoms when used correctly. It is recommended to take melatonin close to the local bedtime at the destination, with dosages ranging from 0.5 milligrams to five milligrams or higher. If you're used to melatonin supplements you will of course want to use a higher amount.

In fact it works so well that in some countries there are calls for it to be a perscribed treatment for jet lag.

However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

In addition to melatonin, other strategies such as light therapy, proper hydration, limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption, and adjusting to the new time schedule can help prevent and alleviate jet lag. By combining these approaches, travelers can minimize the impact of jet lag and adapt more quickly to their new time zone.